On Saturday, the Norwegian Medicine Agency confirmed that up to 29 people had died after being administered with the Pfizer BionNTech mRNA vaccine in the Scandinavian kingdom. It said it was aware also of deaths in other countries. Pfizer has pointed out that nothing unexpected has occurred while the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has said the administration of Covid-19 vaccines to extremely frail and aged people must be considered carefully. The statement by the Thai Prime Minister on Sunday was explained in the context of a key government policy and principle that Thai nationals will not be used ‘for experiment’ with expedited vaccines developed in other countries.
With concerns developing over deaths among elderly people in Norway following the Northern European country’s vaccination programme targeting older citizens in nursing homes, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha issued a sharp statement on Sunday saying the kingdom would be careful before administering vaccines to anyone in Thailand. This comes approximately six weeks before plans to administer one million vaccine doses to medical health workers, the elderly and the most at risk, are due to commence in the kingdom using the Chinese made Sinovac jab.
As concerns mount about the deaths in Norway directly coinciding with the administration of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, Thailand’s Prime Minister, on Sunday, emphasised comments he had made earlier in the week suggesting that authorities in the kingdom will be cautious about rolling out vaccinations for the population.
He made a strong statement on the matter on his Facebook account this Sunday.
Key policy of the government after consultation with the National Vaccine Committee laid down
The Prime Minister, in his statement, assured the public that he had made it a key policy after consulting with the kingdom’s National Vaccine Committee, that Thailand would not be used as a testing ground for quickly developed vaccines.
‘Some countries wanted speedy vaccinations and decided to use vaccines whose efficacy and safety have not yet been fully tested. For Thais, I have decided to avoid taking such a risk,’ he stated.
Thailand will not be a ‘guinea pig’
The Prime Minister echoed comments made some weeks ago by Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn that Thailand would not be a ‘guinea pig’ for such treatment.
‘For the sake of prudence, I have laid down an important policy – that is we need to be sure that vaccines are safe before being used on Thais,’ he said. ‘I will not allow any hasty move to use vaccines that are not completely tested, and will not let the country be used as a subject for experiment.’
Australian minister demands answers from Pfizer BioNTech and requests information from Norway
It comes as Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has requested through the country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, more information about the deaths of up to 29 elderly Norwegians which have, so far, been attributed to the vaccine programme where 42,000 of those most at risk, particularly in nursing homes, have already been vaccinated.
Mr Hunt said his office was also requesting that Australian officials obtain further information from Pfizer BioNTech and medical authorities in Norway. Australia has contracted to purchase 10 million doses from the US firm.
Pfizer jab is an mRNA type vaccine
Thailand does not plan, at this stage, to use the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine which together with the Moderna jab, is an RNA vaccine which uses a more advanced method of producing immunity by what is termed an mRNA or messenger.
This is a clone of a natural chemical in the body which triggers the body’s immune system into responding against the virus, halting its ability to infect an individual.
Thailand’s first vaccine, according to the government’s plans which have not yet been altered by the prime minister’s cautionary statements over the weekend, will see the Chinese Sinovac vaccine used.
This is an ‘inactivated’ vaccine that triggers the body’s immune system by containing killed off virus-cells which serve to activate immune system cells.
Sinovac’s ‘Coronavac’ vaccine due to be rolled out in Thailand at the end of February to those at risk
Thailand plans to import 200,000 doses of the Coronavac vaccine made by Sinovac at the end of February as part of the first phase of Thailand’s vaccination plan.
This will be followed by a further 1.8 million doses in March and April. This will allow authorities to vaccinate one million people thought to be front line medical staff, the elderly and those who are most at risk.
The second phase is due in June and July and will see 26 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which is what is termed a ‘viral vector vaccine’, an engineered virus designed to also cause the body’s immune system cells to react delivering immunity from the Covid-19 virus.
Last phase at the end of 2021 leaving over half the adults in the Kingdom vaccinated for Covid-19
This second phase will target those with underlying health conditions in Thailand and those living in key areas of the country according to plans developed by the Ministry of Public Health.
The third stage of the vaccine programme proposed in Thailand will see 35 million AstraZeneca doses administered at the end of this year to bring the number vaccinated in the country to over 30 million or well over half the adult population, a target set by the prime minister last week.
Local authorities can organise support vaccination drives as Ministry of Health officials assure the public that vaccines are safe to be used on people here
Thailand’s government has also authorised provincial authorities to commence and organise their own local vaccination programmes with plans currently being looked at by officials in Pattaya within Chonburi province as well as the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.
In the meantime, the Deputy Director-General of the Disease Control Department at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Tanarak Plipat, has moved to assure the public that the vaccines proposed for Thailand have been clinically trialled over a three-stage process including tests on their effects when given to the elderly.
He particularly emphasised this in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine to be used in the second phase of the vaccination process in June.
‘The 26 million doses of vaccines that will be shipped by AstraZeneca have also passed the stage three trials, meaning there is proof that their vaccines are safe, can stimulate immunity and prevent infections,’ Dr Tinarak confirmed.
Thailand’s FDA has warned it will not compromise its principles and approve the Chinese vaccine without full documentation and assurances
Last week, Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat, the deputy Secretary-General with the Food and Drug Administration in Thailand, warned that his agency would not approve any vaccine that did not provide all documentation and information required by his body including assurances as to its safety.
He pointedly disclosed that the Thai FDA had not received documentation requested from Sinovac in respect of the Coranavac vaccine and said that the jab could not be used in Thailand without approval and that this may have implications for the government’s roll-out schedule.
He said his agency would stick to its ‘principles’ on this matter.
Second virus wave is coming under control
In the meantime, Thai authorities are cautiously optimistic that the second wave of the virus is being brought under control with travel restrictions in place and a range of local measures in the most infected ‘red zone’ provinces.
This is being attributed to increased public cooperation with authorities to fight the virus by staying at home and observing the proper protocols.
Prime Minister Prayut underlined this on Sunday when he encouraged Thais again to use the ‘MorChanna’ smartphone tracking application and to adhere to simple disease prevention techniques such as washing hands and wearing face masks.
Situation in Norway a source of concern
Meanwhile, the situation in Norway is one that is causing increased concern with a statement from officials, working with the Norwegian Medicines Agency, to Bloomberg in New York on Saturday.
The agency confirmed that they were also aware of deaths in other countries with a report due from the European Union on this at the end of January.
‘We are aware that deaths have also been reported in other countries, but do not have full details of this yet,’ the agency disclosed. ‘There are also differences between countries in who is prioritized for vaccination, and this could also affect the reporting of side effects, including death.’
Pfizer BioNTech confident that its vaccine is safe
Pfizer BioNTech has meanwhile responded that nothing unexpected has occurred concerning its vaccine which has been approved for use in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It also drew attention to the fact that the medicines agency had found that ‘the number of incidents so far is not alarming, and in line with expectations.’
It should also be noted that from December 14th to December 23rd in the United States with 1.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine administered, there were only 21 cases of an allergic reaction or severe side effects recorded.
Norwegian health body says the situation with older and very frail people requires additional consideration
However, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has also issued a statement suggesting that for very old people with severe health conditions, the side effects caused by any Covid-19 vaccine may be something that authorities must consider.
‘For those with the most severe frailty, even relatively mild vaccine side effects can have serious consequences. For those who have a very short remaining life span anyway, the benefit of the vaccine may be marginal or irrelevant,’ the statement said.