A Super Poll survey in recent days shows the public firmly behind the government and in stout agreement with the legal action being taken against the Progressive Movement leader who is still defending his controversial claims that the country’s vaccination plans are flawed and too reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine including its deal here with a firm owned by the Crown Property Bureau, a claim which last week produced a forceful and angry response from officials starting with the Prime Minister.

As the controversy over Thailand’s vaccination strategy against Covid-19 rages with Lèse-majesté proceedings being taken against Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul has suggested that the programme will not be complete until the end of 2022.

A Facebook broadcast last week by Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (left) questioning the vaccination strategy in Thailand has sparked an outcry from government officials and ministers leading to his prosecution under Lèse-majesté charges. On Tuesday, the latest comments by Mr Thanathorn drew a response from Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul (centre) who defended the government’s plan but also suggested that the vaccination process in the kingdom will not be complete until the end of 2022.

It comes after a blistering row has broken out between the government and the progressive activist who was barred from Thai politics for 10 years by the Constitutional Court early last year after his political party Future Forward was disbanded.

Mr Thanathorn is facing Lèse-majesté charges instituted by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry last week following a Facebook broadcast in which he questioned the government’s vaccination strategy and its reliance on a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau, Siam Bioscience.

Legal actions against Thanathorn are being pursued under Article 112 and the Computer Crime Act

The latter’s remarks have led to the charge that the former party leader and wealthy industrialist had defamed the monarchy.

Last week, Tossapol Pengsom of the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok confirmed to Reuters that charges against Mr Thanathorn were being pursued under both the Computer Crime Act and the Lèse-majesté provisions after his controversial comments on social media.

Siam Bioscience defends its position

In a robust response to the claims, Siam Bioscience has defended its exclusive manufacturing agreement to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Thailand for distribution throughout the whole of Southeast Asia.

‘In October 2020 Siam Bioscience, SCG, AstraZeneca and the Public Health Ministry signed a Letter of Intent to demonstrate their joint commitment to make this vaccine available in Southeast Asia,’ a statement from the firm read. ‘This was followed by a contract manufacturing agreement between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience. This agreement also signifies that Siam Bioscience met AstraZeneca’s high technical, operational and ethical standards. Through technology transfer from AstraZeneca, Siam Bioscience is now part of AstraZeneca’s worldwide network of vaccine manufacturing partners.’

Siam Bioscience has developed a manufacturing facility in Pathum Thani which, it is reported, will be capable of producing 200 million AstraZeneca doses a year.

The firm was established decades ago under the guidance of the King’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and has an established track record for excellence.

Thanathorn renewed his criticism this week

Mr Thanathorn, however, renewed his criticism of the government this week by claiming that, as of now, the kingdom has only contracted to purchase two vaccines, the AstraZeneca jab and Coronavac from the Beijing based firm Sinovac.

He says that the country, right now, only has commitments to obtain enough vaccine doses to inoculate over 21% of the population and based on his information, the possibility of enough doses to vaccinate 50% of Thais by the end of 2022.

He said that even this would not be sufficient to give the kingdom herd immunity which would require that 70% of people be vaccinated and said that it would be the end of 2023 before Thailand could see this happening.

Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul highlighted that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be manufactured in Thailand for Asia

This was what drew the fire of Minister Anutin who made the claim that this figure of 70% would be achieved by the end of 2022.

The minister defended the government’s approach as one based on caution. 

‘Every process has been overseen by medical doctors and experts because the government considers public safety of paramount importance and we would never politicise the vaccine issue,’ he said.

He emphasised the government was proceeding according to a carefully laid out plan and that the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani meant that the kingdom would be a manufacturer of the vaccine.

‘Furthermore, we also have the capability to produce Covid-19 vaccines locally so we don’t have to worry about competing over vaccines with other countries,’ he underscored.

Timeframe of the vaccination effort is now emerging as the critical factor for economic recovery

The speed at which Thailand can achieve herd immunity or an effective vaccination outcome is now emerging as the critical factor also for its economic prospects with many business concerns hoping that by the end of 2021, the country may find itself in a safe position.

The achievement of herd immunity even one year later instead of two will not be good news.

However, there are other factors such as vaccination programmes in other countries and the effects of initial vaccinations with different medical opinions on what it takes to effectively suppress the threat from the disease.

Current plans to vaccinate over 50% this year

Thailand plans to have 50% of its population vaccinated by the end of 2021 with a full rollout beginning in May using 26 million AstraZeneca doses manufactured here in Thailand. It is understood that the first vaccine jab will be administered in the country next month on February 14th.

The third and final stage is to begin in 2022 with an initial 35 million doses already contracted from the UK Swedish firm for its vaccine developed in association with Oxford University.

Thailand has now secured 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a plant in Italy to open its programme and has signed a deal for 2 million Sinovac doses from China. This vaccine is still awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval here.

The first in line to be vaccinated will be a front line medical staff member in Samut Sakhon at the epicentre of the current outbreak with over a million to be inoculated initially across the health service and among the most vulnerable including the aged and those with serious underlying conditions. 

97% support prosecution of Thanathorn for Lèse-majesté according to the latest Super Poll research

An opinion poll in Thailand in the last few days conducted by Super Poll Research Centre appears to show overwhelming support among the public for the official line with 97% coming out in favour of the legal proceedings against Mr Thanathorn, the young tycoon, for Lèse-majesté.

Polls have consistently shown in Thailand a reluctance on behalf of the public to see the monarchy drawn into controversy but this margin appears to be quite remarkable.

The results of the poll were presented by Associate Professor Noppadon Kannika, the director of the survey agency. He said the poll was conducted from January 21st to 24th among a sample of 1,800 people. He also identified strong support for the controversial section of the Criminal Code.

‘Moreover, 93 per cent of respondents believe Article 112 helps maintain peace in the country, while only 7 per cent disagree,’ the pollster affirmed.

Join the Thai News forum, follow Thai Examiner on Facebook here
Receive all our stories as they come out on Telegram here

Further reading:

Thanathorn facing serious Lèse-majesté charges after Facebook broadcast on vaccination strategy

PM puts brakes on the vaccination rollout with warning that caution is the kingdom’s watchword

Top virologist Dr Yong defends the use of the Sinovac vaccine to protect frontline medical staff at high risk

Gamblers and hosts at illegal gambling dens are being jailed as massive crackdown proceeds apace

Thailand faces its darkest hour against Covid-19 virus as vaccinations due to begin in March

PM criticises employers for using cheap, illegal migrant labour as officials remain on high alert

Thailand mobilising towards faster vaccinations as the Covid virus pandemic reaches new heights

Confirmed: Covid-19 second wave is here with the new outbreak seen as more serious than the first one

Covid-19 situation worsens as local infections now spread to 38 provinces with more red zones on the map

Prime Minister warns employers and bent officials over illegal migrant workers but calls for calm for now

Samut Sakhon flare-up spreads to other provinces but will be brought under control say top officials

Covid 19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon sees province placed under lockdown measures by local officials

Luxury party hotel in Myanmar’s Shan State is the epicentre of Thailand’s current Covid 19 outbreak

Minister Anutin attacks infected Thai women whose actions set back plans to reopen the kingdom’s borders

Myanmar border on alert after shock local Covid positive test on Friday is linked to local smuggling trade

Thai army strengthens security along the Burmese border to defend against super infectious strain of Covid 19

Man visiting from Laos had TB, not Covid 19 as Udon Thani governor confirms no trace of Covid 19 virus

Top doc wants a halt to all foreigners entering Thailand again warning of a 2nd virus breakout due to the influx

Broken-hearted Swede fears history will repeat itself as shock parting left him stranded in Laos for 4 months

92% of suicides due to the virus are among the self-employed according to expert research group in academia

Foreigners arriving in Thailand in now increasing numbers targeted by a fake news campaign online

Visa amnesty agreed as emergency decree is linked to the controlled entry of Thais and Foreigners

Homeless people sheltering in closed Pattaya beer bars – Pattaya News report

Doors closed to a European diplomat who came from the airport to a Bangkok condo building after flight

Entry for privileged groups tightened up as flack swirls over Egyptian military’s flying visit to Rayong

Mystery Egyptian military flight revealed as exposing Thailand to the Covid 19 virus in Rayong

Agony for stranded western foreigners as ‘Fast-track’ Chinese charter flight jets in from Shanghai

Move to prevent a tourism wipeout as minister pushes 3 phase plan especially targeting Chinese tourists

IATA calls on countries like Thailand to think again over quarantine schemes and travel curbs costing jobs

Only 2,000 foreigners have yet registered to be reunited with love ones as tourism to also reopen

Key ministries met on Sunday to discuss access by foreigners to the kingdom and a tourism relaunch

Thai public says No to foreign tourism and also predicts 1 to 2 years for travel to return to normal

Only hope for foreigners locked out of Thailand as easing continues with strict controls on entry

Ministers suggest an easing of the travel ban for some tourists but a continued state of emergency

Thailand plans to prioritise Asian countries in its search for safe Covid 19 ‘tourism bubble’ partners

Australian envoy says his embassy and others continue to work on helping stranded foreigners get home

Access to Thailand opening up. It will be cautious, quite expensive with tight regulation and ministry controls

Thai security chief suggests a full reopening of the kingdom to international flights from July 1st

New normal for foreigners seeking access to Thailand even after flights resume if virus persists as a factor

Growing concern and frustration among a large number of expats cut off from their families in Thailand

Australian man’s heartbreak cut off from his Thai wife – begs to be included on repatriation flights

Thailand extends ban on inbound flights until July 1st at the earliest – blow to foreigners and tourism

Spouses of Thai wives down under denied access to limited repatriation flights from Australia this week

Australian retiree is spending his own pension money on supporting the poor during the crisis in Chiang Mai