Thailand now appears ready to go all-in on a vaccine programme while the AstraZeneca vaccine still remains the only approved jab. This week, the Chairman of the government committee responsible for the vaccination drive, Dr Sophon Mekthon, indicated that the country’s programme will begin effectively in June with the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced in Thailand, scheduled to be rolled out also then.

A top Thai doctor has given his imprimatur to the government and the public to pursue herd immunity through the rollout of a mass vaccine after he revealed astonishingly good news from the vaccination campaigns in both the United States and the United Kingdom whose early vaccination efforts are proving extraordinarily successful at limiting the virus. 

Dr Prasit Watanapa, the Dean of Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University has urged the Thai public to get behind the idea of a vaccination rollout as the way for Thailand to put the Covid-19 pandemic nightmare behind it as he revealed positive news from both the United States and the United Kingdom.

One of Thailand’s top medical practitioners, on Tuesday, sounded a change of emphasis by the medical community in the kingdom when he endorsed the need for an effective vaccination programme to be rolled out as a priority by the government and encouraged the public to embrace it as the way forward out of the Covid-19 pandemic nightmare that has severely undermined the country’s economy and social norms.

The doctor said the kingdom must have a mass vaccination campaign as soon as possible to allow the country to return to normal including the resumption of tourism.

Top doctor at Siriraj says Thailand needs mass vaccination to resume its critical tourism industry

‘If we need to have more tourism activity, we need to have vaccines en masse by the end of this year and the government is working on that,’ he affirmed.

Dr Prasit Watanapa is the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital’s Mahidol University. He was addressing the public during a Facebook Live press conference on the current Covid-19 situation.

He particularly urged the public to embrace the rollout of emergency vaccines developed by international firms in association with governments and the public sector in countries across the globe to specifically address this crisis.

Poll on Sunday shows the Thai public open but wary

His comments follow a Suan Dusit poll on national newspapers last Sunday which showed that while 66% of Thais were open to getting vaccinated, they expressed reservations both as to its efficacy and reports of side effects especially among the aged and those with certain underlying conditions.

Data from vaccination campaigns is very positive

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, Dr Prasit had a positive message on the progress of vaccination programmes, so far, across the world.

He especially zeroed in on the rollouts in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel where some critical mass has been achieved by the governments there in their vaccination campaigns.

Dr Prasit said there was very encouraging data coming through to show a marked reduction in infection rates in these countries.

Israel has achieved a remarkable inoculation rate of 33.44% in a fast track vaccination campaign that only began in January. The country used a range of vaccine jabs including the Pfizer BioNtech mRNA vaccine which requires two doses and the Johnson & Johnson product which only requires one. 

Researchers are already reporting a 33% drop in infection rates among the vaccinated population but experts are noting the need to complete the course of two doses were required with the Pfizer jab only showing a 66% immunity rate with one dose whereas clinical trials showed 95% with two.

United States and United Kingdom began campaigns early in December 2020 which are showing results

However, the situation in both the United States and the United Kingdom, where the virus had been raging, is quite dramatic.

In the United States, 28 million doses have been administered representing 6.97% of the population since the country began its vaccine rollout on December 8th 2020.

After this, the level of infection in the USA fell from 256,105 cases to 107,816 cases at the end of January.

The story from the UK is even more dramatic since it is adjacent to both France and Ireland where vaccination rollouts have been impeded by inertia within the European Union. Both countries have recorded, sadly, rising rates of infection during the second wave of the virus.

Astonishingly positive outcomes in the United States and the United Kingdom but Dr Prasit cautions that the causality has not yet been established

In the United Kingdom, 12.57% of the population have been vaccinated since December 8th last year. The country has seen its rate of infection drop sharply from January 8th last, approximately one month after the vaccines began to be rolled out. The latest UK infection rate, with numbers falling in all regions of the country, is 18,000 daily from a peak on January 8th of 68,053 cases.

The Siriraj expert emphasised, however, that it is not clear if the dramatic turnaround in the United States and the United Kingdom are caused by the vaccination efforts but he was also encouraged by the absence of reports of harmful side effects on a significant scale meaning the jabs are safe: ‘It is not yet clear that the decrease is linked to the vaccines’ efficiency but analysis shows that the vaccines have produced non-harmful side-effects so they are quite safe.’

Time for Thailand to embrace vaccines

Dr Prasit called on the Thai public to embrace the prospect of vaccination against the disease. ‘Thai people should not be reluctant to have the vaccines. We need to create herd immunity to improve our social and economic growth,’ he said.

In the meantime, Thailand’s vaccination rollout has run into difficulties allowing neighbouring countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore to press ahead.

European Union holds up Thailand’s AstraZeneca vaccine doses in its moves against the pharma giant

An initial shipment of the vaccine from the UK Swedish firm AstraZeneca, the only inoculation jab as of yet approved by the Food and Drugs Administration in the kingdom, was due this month for a programme scheduled to begin on February 14th or Valentines Day.

This has been put in doubt by the European Union which has imposed controls on the export of vaccine products including formula from its member countries as it fell into dispute with the large pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, over their failure to deliver doses for its immunisation programme which has stalled in its member countries.

Kingdom counting on Thai firm Siam Bioscience

It is now understood that Thailand is counting on its agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture its vaccine at the plant in Pathum Thani operated by Thai firm, Siam Bioscience.

‘We have already prepared a national inoculation plan, which will officially kick off in June once Siam Bioscience starts producing the AstraZeneca vaccine,’ said Dr Sophon Mekthon who is the Chairman of the government sub-committee responsible for the programme, on Monday.

Other vaccines are being examined rigorously

In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration and it’s Secretary-general Dr Paisarn Dankum are still awaiting further documentation and approval from Chinese state authorities in respect of the Chinese vaccine Coronavac produced by Beijing firm Sinovac. 

Thailand has ordered 2 million doses of this vaccine which were due to be delivered in the next three months pending its approval by the Food and Drug Administration which has emphasised that it will be rigorous in examining any vaccine proposed for use in the kingdom.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was only approved on January 20th last after a review by up to 100 experts who went through 10,000 pages of documentation.

On Monday, it was understood that Johnson & Johnson are to apply to have its one dose vaccine with a reported 66% efficacy rate, approved in Thailand also.

Food and Drug Administration focused on AstraZeneca vaccine quality at Pathum Thani plant

The Food and Drug Administration is currently working with Siam Bioscience to run an emergency batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine at its facility in Pathum Thani so that it can be tested by the agency for quality standards.

‘Vaccine quality is the most important thing. The FDA must ensure that each batch is no different from the original,’ said Dr Paisarn.

The review will be complete by May which will then allow the firm to produce 26 million doses in June which will kickstart Thailand’s vaccination programme and launch the kingdom back on the road to health, economic and social security.

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