The Chinese vaccine has been confirmed by trials in Brazil as 78% effective and its partnering institution in the South American country is pressing ahead with an application for its emergency use in the country’s vaccination programme. Thailand plans to use the Chinese engineered product to kickstart its expedited vaccine programme with 2 million doses. On Sunday, a senior official with the Food and Drug Administration authority warned that the vaccine may not be approved on time, if at all. The kingdom is now committed to purchasing 61 million doses from UK Swedish firm AstraZeneca for a vaccination programme which will see at least half the population inoculated this year with public health being placed ahead of all other considerations.

Pheu Thai called on the government this week to clarify if it is fully satisfied as to the efficacy and safety of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. A spokesperson for the party, Arunee Kasayanond, raised concerns that arose in Brazil over an extended trial of the vaccine there, days before published results showed that it was 78% effective. The government also, during the week, confirmed that it had ordered 35 million doses from AstraZeneca whose vaccine will also be produced in Thailand at a rate of 200 million doses a year by a Thai firm in Pathum Thani, a development which Thai PM Prayut Chan ocha heralds as signifying Thailand as a new hub for medical technology. It comes as Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health made it clear that its priority is administering vaccines to medical health staff and the most vulnerable while free jabs for the public may not be available until late this year or even early in 2022.

Arunee Kasayanond (right) raised questions last week about the Sinovac vaccine from China as a senior official within the Food and Drug Administration, this weekend, warned that it may not approve the vaccine and the government may have to change its plans. It comes at Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (left), in an upbeat assessment, promised that the vaccination programme being rolled out, would see 50% of people inoculated this year in Thailand free of charge and that Thailand would become a medical hub with the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the kingdom.

Pheu Thai this week questioned the government on whether it had been assured of the quality of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine, Sinovac, which is due to lead the rollout in Thailand’s brought forward vaccination campaign at the end of February. On Sunday, a top Ministry of Public Health official appeared to defend the vaccine while a senior official at the Food and Drug Administration would not guarantee it would be approved for use in the campaign.

Newly appointed spokesperson for Thailand’s largest opposition party and former Thai Raksa Thai member, Arunee Kasayanond, raised the issue but simultaneously came out in support of the government’s plan to prioritise frontline medical workers and the most vulnerable in the national vaccination drive.

 Ms Arunee also supported the government’s commitment to making the vaccine available free of charge to Thai citizens as a right.

Pheu Thai spokeswoman supported the government’s expedited vaccination campaign

Furthermore, Ms Arunee appeared to support the introduction of the vaccination programme on an expedited basis observing that it will take time for the population to develop proper immunity and protection against further outbreaks.

Concerns about the Sinovac vaccine erupted after the suspension of a press conference in Brazil recently following a trial of the Chinese vaccine there. It is understood that an issue arose in Brazil which halted the finalisation of the outcome with various reports suggesting an adverse reaction among some of those to whom the vaccine was administered.

Civic group question the Sinovac jab

On Sunday, while the permanent secretary-general at the Ministry of Public Health appeared to defend the Sinovac vaccine, officials with the Food and Drug Administration warned that it may yet not be approved for use in Thailand.

Kiatiphum Wongrajit said that the vaccine’s development was based on a proven approach and that in all, no serious side effects had been reported.

Concern has been expressed about the vaccine by a pressure group called FTA Watch which monitors Thailand’s trade relations with other countries and developments which may undermine citizen’s rights with a particular emphasis on health and food safety issues.  

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul is the Deputy Chairwoman and has pointed out that the Sinovac vaccine has not yet been approved for use in China nor has it finished phase 3 trials.

FDA warns that it may yet reject Chinese developed vaccine saying it has not received documentation

Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat is a Deputy Secretary-General with the Food and Drug Administration.

He made it clear on Sunday that approval from the authority in Thailand was not a foregone conclusion. He said the authority would be sticking to its principles and would only approve the vaccine if fully satisfied. He also made it clear that this may have implications for the government’s current rollout plans.

‘The decision to approve that vaccine will depend on its safety and efficiency,’ Dr Surachoke explained. ‘Our experts will look into the scientific evidence that will be sent to us.’

Speaking with the Bangkok Post, Dr Surachoke said that the Thai FDA had requested documentation from the company in China, Sinovac, which was necessary to approve the vaccine in the kingdom. He said that his authority had not yet received the required information. 

‘If we don’t have all the required documents to verify its safety, it is possible we won’t approve it,’ he stated clearly.

He clarified that the FDA is currently also reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in association with Oxford University, and had received all documentation required in relation to that process.

The government gives timeframe and plans for the vaccination process but third phase will be late

On Sunday, the Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, Dr Opas Kankawinpong, explained that the vaccination programme in Thailand would be administered in three stages.

Strikingly, it appears that the final stage of the rollout is still going to be delayed until the later stages of this year or even early next year.

The first stage will run from February until April and will see 1.32 million people including frontline health staff and the most vulnerable inoculated with the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

The second stage will see over 13 million people deemed to be at high risk inoculated from May to June this year. 

All the vaccinations will be with two doses spaced 4 weeks apart. There will be two central distribution hubs namely the Ministry of Public Health and the Government Pharmaceuticals Organisation.

Personnel will be given training on administering the vaccine with the clear goal of making sure that follow up jabs are administered properly and within the appropriate timeframe for the second dose to make the inoculation effective.

The final stage of the vaccination programme affecting the mainstream of the population is said to be scheduled for late this year or early next year. All doses will be made available free of charge

Chinese jab found to be 78% effective in Brazil

In the last two days, The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Brazilian vaccine trials for Sinovac have been completed. Reports suggest that the vaccine has been 78% effective which also corresponds to its trial results in China. Sinovac’s competitor, Chinese firm SinoPharm, was the first in the communist country to have a vaccine approved with a 79% efficacy rate.

Last week, Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute, which is partnering the Chinese company, is understood to have applied to the Brazilian government for emergency approval to roll out the vaccine as a key component of the large South American nation’s vaccine plan. 

More good news for the Chinese jab has come from Geneva where the World Health Organisation is reported to be reviewing it as it prepares a list of products to be greenlighted for use around the world.

Cost of the Chinese vaccine is higher than the initial deal for Swedish UK company AstraZeneca’s product

Thailand’s cabinet reportedly approved a ฿1.3 billion purchase of 2 million doses of the vaccine last Tuesday averaging out at ฿650 each which is a 16.5% rise on the budget quoted last week when the Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, announced the move to expedite the vaccination process.

Last year, Thailand is understood to have contracted with AstraZeneca, the UK Swedish firm, to supply 26 million doses at ฿150 per dose. It has also now been confirmed that the extra 35 million doses announced by the Prime Minister in recent days are to come from AstraZeneca.

These are to be used in the third and final stage of the vaccine programme to inoculate the general population bringing the numbers vaccinated to over 50%.

This makes the Chinese vaccine over 430% more expensive than the first batch of 26 million doses from AstraZeneca. The AstraZeneca Oxford University vaccine is now reported to be 95% effective after initial confusion in earlier trials led to more extensive testing.

Good week for the government in its fight against the second wave of the Covid-19 virus

It has been a good week for the government with top officials at the Department of Disease Control expressing optimism that the latest virus outbreak may be brought under control by the end of the month even as emergency measures spring into place with travel restrictions into and out of 5 provinces as well as domestic air flight cancellations, railway journeys slashed and a general mood of caution from the public which has assisted government efforts.

Thai PM highlights that Thailand will become a hub for manufacturing the vaccine as an opportunity

In an upbeat assessment, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha highlighted that the Thai firm, Siam BioScience, will be in a position later in the year to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine and is projected to have a capacity of up to 200 million doses per year after negotiating a licence from the UK Swedish consortium which is manufacturing the UK vaccine developed by Oxford University.

‘In a crisis, there are always opportunities. And in the Covid-19 crisis, we can turn Thailand into a medical hub,’ General Prayut told the media.

Siam BioScience will manufacture the vaccine at a plant located in Pathum Thani province near Bangkok.

The PM also vowed that at least half the Thai population would be inoculated free of charge this year in the planned campaign by the Ministry of Public Health.

Pheu Thai pressing for a censure motion against the government but looks like it will be at the end of the current parliamentary session

Meanwhile, it is still understood that the opposition Pheu Thai Party is pressing ahead with a censure motion against the government for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis under parliamentary rules which allow for one such hearing per term.

The parliamentary right to a censure motion was conceded during the week by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who said it was in line with Section 154 of the Constitution.

However, he also indicated that because of other pressing business, such as legislation dealing with abortion, the fight against illegal narcotics and other bills subjects to both parliamentary and judicial scrutiny, it could be towards the end of February before a hearing could take place.

He ruled out the possibility of an extraordinary session being called.

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