Polls on Sunday show the public is sceptical. 83% are worried about the potential side effects. Uncertainty also abounds about the timeline to complete the programme with the Public Health Minister last week indicating the end of 2022. It also appears that the Siam Bioscience facility for the manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine may become strategically important to Thailand’s plans as things proceed. Foreigners are included but will have to make a payment.

The government gave a press conference on Sunday after the country’s vaccination programme was reviewed and approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration on the orders of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha. No time scale was given for the vaccination rollout although it will begin in February. Priority is being given to health care workers, the aged and those with underlying conditions. Also to be included in the second stage will be those involved in managing the country’s ‘social and economic’ security. This comes as the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, this week, appeared to express concern about shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the European Union due in May with indications by those in charge of the programme that there may be some reliance on a locally produced source of the jab.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri on Sunday confirmed that after a review by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, the rollout of Thailand’s vaccination programme will begin in February although there are many questions still to be answered, not least the exact time scale and source of vaccine doses.

The government is running into difficulties with its vaccination programme as vaccine nationalism has broken out worldwide leading the European Union, this week, to begin moves to limit exports of vaccine products from the bloc, a move which Thai Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul has expressed concern about.

Mr Anutin said the government was in discussions with its vaccine suppliers on the continent about the prospects for delivery of orders destined for Thailand given the threats made by irate European Union officials in Brussels against AstraZeneca, in recent days, that they would block the export of its vaccines from its member countries if its contract with them is not fulfilled.

Legal row between the European Union and AstraZeneca impacts Thailand’s vaccination plans

A legal row has broken out with between the European Union and the UK Swedish firm over the substance of a contract between them which AstraZeneca interprets, as in the potential development of the vaccination, as its commitment only to use its ‘best efforts’ to comply with the delivery of vaccine quotas while furious officials with the bloc suspect the product has been requisitioned by the United Kingdom.

In recent days, Mr Anutin was sanguine about what would happen next. ‘We have already done everything we can on our part. So if any problems arise after this, they will be beyond our control,’ he said.

Initial shipments of 50,000 AstraZeneca doses to provide for the opening of the vaccination drive

It is understood that Thai authorities are banking on the delivery of an initial 50,000 doses of the vaccine in February to begin its vaccination rollout aimed at public health workers, those over 60 and those with serious underlying conditions in provinces with seriously high levels of infection such as Samut Sakhon.

This is to be followed by 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in May which is understood to be of concern to the government.

No talk of the Sinovac jab as of now

It appears that officials are not planning, at this stage, for use of the Sinovac vaccine which has not been approved by the Food and Drugs Administration despite a multi-billion baht government contract with the Beijing firm to supply 2 million of the jabs.

The government appears to be counting on the ability of the Thai firm, Siam Bioscience, to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine in Thailand which, it is suggested, will commence sometime in June, from its plant in Pathum Thani.

Use of Siam Bioscience facility hinted at

Dr Sophon Mekthon is the Chairman of the government subcommittee with oversight of the vaccination programme.

He referred to this at the end of the week when he suggested that even if the 150,000 AstraZeneca doses are not available in May, second doses for those inoculated initially can be obtained from the local source of the vaccine.

Last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha submitted the government’s vaccination programme plan for review by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

Foreigners must make a payment

Officials, also last week, said that 19 million will be covered in the first phase of the vaccine rollout to include 11 million people over 60 years of age, 6.1 million with underlying health conditions and 1.7 million health professionals.

The government has indicated that vaccines will be made available to all people in targeted groups living in Thailand but non-Thai nationals will have to make a contributory payment.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has assured the public that the vaccination rollout will be both fair and in line with international standards of best practice.

Vaccination rollout to proceed in February after review with 3 phases but no indication of a timeline

At a media briefing on Sunday, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri still insisted that the first wave of vaccinations will proceed in February although there are now doubts over a reported date of February 14th or Valentines Day.

Mr Anucha, pointedly, did not give a timeframe for the programme but said it would be divided into three phases as presented to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration by the Ministry of Public Health.

Thai officials have gone on record as saying that the plan is to inoculate over 50% of the population excluding those under 18 and women who are pregnant.

Minister of Public Health Anutin – full vaccination process will not be complete until the end of 2022

However, in reply to a war of words between the government and Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, last week, the Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, appeared to suggest that the vaccination process in the kingdom will not be complete until the end of 2022.

In the media briefing on Sunday, the spokesman detailed a plan where the first two stages would be reserved for medical staff, the aged and those with chronic diseases as well as those involved with the maintenance of the country’s ‘social and economic security’.

He suggested that the mainstream population would only be included in the third phase.

Poll shows the public have questions

Meanwhile, a Suan Dusit poll published in The Nation on Sunday highlights another key area of concern for the government.

The survey, conducted to the 29th January and questioning 1,570 people, showed that nearly 83% were concerned about possible side effects from any vaccine with 66% demanding more information.

The public was most aware of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine at just over 64% with the AstraZeneca jab coming second with nearly 53%. 

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Further reading:

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