The withdrawal of the Thai Prime Minister from Friday’s vaccine jab event planned for the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute has made news around the world as, despite denials of links to reported deaths in Europe and assurances regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, governments, like Thailand, have acted to suspend or restrict the use of the jab. The deaths reported in Denmark, Austria and Italy may be, as Thai Dr Yong Poovorawan points out, simply a side effect of any vaccination programme or as the company itself insists, unrelated entirely to the vaccine which is the mainstay of Thailand’s planned campaign to achieve herd immunity in 2021 and reopen the country.

Top Thai medical experts insisted at a hastily convened press conference in Nonthaburi province on Friday morning, that the prospects for the use of vaccines in the country’s vaccination programme were good and that the jabs were safe. It came after the scheduled inoculation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha with the AstraZeneca vaccine was abruptly cancelled after scare stories relating to the vaccine emerged in Europe.

Thailand’s top doctors including Dr Yong Poovorawan (left) and Dr Prasit Watanapa (centre) addressed a press conference in Nonthaburi on Friday morning after the planned inoculation of the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and other cabinet ministers with the AstraZeneca jabs was cancelled overnight following moves in European countries to suspend or restrict the use of the vaccine as a precaution over several deaths and reports of blood clotting problems.

A leading Thai expert on virology and a member of an elite team advising the government has urged caution about jumping to conclusions after the planned vaccination of the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, was halted suddenly on Friday morning after overnight news of a health scare relating to the AstraZeneca vaccine which is the planned mainstay of the kingdom’s vaccination programme.

This is the second time in two weeks that a planned event for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to be inoculated has led to his vaccination with the AstraZeneca jab being cancelled. 

The last time it was a paperwork issue as to the source of origin of the vaccine, 117,300 doses of which were flown in from South Korea on Wednesday the 24th of February. 

Death in Denmark leads to suspension or restriction of AstraZeneca vaccine use in some countries

This time, the problem relates to a case in Denmark where it is reported that a recipient of the vaccine died after developing blood clots when administered with the jab with a large number of similar cases reported.

An investigation is underway led by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Danish authorities halted further use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for two weeks. 

Similar orders have been made in other European countries such as Ireland where the jab will still be used for over 70s, Iceland, Norway, Austria, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

No established link yet with the vaccine

Medical experts, including the European Medicines Agency itself, are stressing that at this time, there are no established links between what happened in Denmark and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Thai government leader, together with other members of the cabinet, was due to receive the jab on Friday morning at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi.

PM’s cancellation became worldwide news

The high profile nature of the inoculation and the use of the AstraZeneca jab have made the cancellation of General Prayut’s jab worldwide news with media outlets quoting a source on the government’s vaccination committee saying ‘vaccine injections for Thais must be safe, we do not have to be in a hurry.’

Top Thai doctors move to assure the public

Instead, a press conference was held at the Ministry of Public Health in Nonthaburi where the country’s top doctors attempted to assure the Thai public that the future use of vaccines was safe.

‘The EMA has compared the incidence of blood clots between vaccine recipients and non-recipients, and they are not different. This is the reason why EMA has indicated that there should not be any relation to the vaccine,’ said Dr Prasit Watanapa of the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University.

AstraZeneca refutes any suggestion of a link between its vaccine and incidents related to blood clots

His comments were later echoed by a statement from AstraZeneca which suggested, referring to data from millions of inoculations already carried out, that the incidence of blood clots among the general population who were not vaccinated was higher than those who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

‘An analysis of our safety data of more than 10 million records has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country with Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca,’ said the statement. ‘In fact, the observed number of these types of events are significantly lower in those vaccinated than what would be expected among the general population.’

Questions have been raised in Europe

The doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe at the centre of the latest controversy in Denmark are believed to be part of a 3 million batch labelled as ABV5300, which were sent to 17 different countries in Europe in recent weeks.

However, it does appear that the problem is not just linked to one batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Thursday, Italy’s health authority, Aifa, also suspended the use of the vaccine after another batch ABV2856 was linked to the deaths of two officials, a 50-year old policeman, Davide Villa, who succumbed last weekend after becoming ill after receiving the jab 12 days before that.

Another case involved a 43-year-old naval officer, Stefano Paterno, who died during the week the day after receiving his AstraZeneca vaccine dose.

Dr Yong Poovorawan tells the public vaccine side effects are normal and to be expected

The press conference heard from Dr Yong Poovorawan who in recent weeks has urged the government to push forward with the country’s vaccination drive so that lives can be saved and the kingdom can return to normality. He acknowledged that all vaccines have some side effects.

He said the pause in its use by health agencies was to see if there was a link.

Dr Yong suggested, however, that the figures should be borne in perspective with one death and 22 blood clots out of three million doses administered referring to the Danish issue. 

Genetic differences may be a factor in this issue says top Thai doctor and virology expert 

The doctor, one of Thailand’s top virologists, also made the point that there is a genetic factor with European and African populations being more likely to develop these side effects.

‘We believe that genetic factors are involved in the illness, which occurs in normal life. Three million doses of the vaccine from this lot were injected. Twenty-two of the recipients developed blood clots, and one of them died. This is an incidence of seven in one million people,’ Dr Yong observed. ‘With this postponement, we are not saying that the vaccine is problematic. This postponement is to wait for verification of whether there is any implication for the vaccine or that batch of the vaccine.’

PM’s AstraZeneca doses came from South Korea

The AstraZeneca vaccine doses planned to be used in Friday’s high profile inoculation of the Prime Minister were part of 117,300 shipped to Thailand recently from South Korea and which arrived at the same time as 200,000 doses of the Sinovac jab from China.

However, the source of the vaccine meant that new tests and paperwork had to be done so that they could be approved for use by the Thai Medical Science Department.

This was the cause of the postponement on February 28th last.

Johnson and Johnson jab to get the green light this month said FDA senior official on Friday

Thailand announced, on Friday, that it has been approached by Moderna to approve its vaccine for use in the kingdom and it is expected that the ‘one dose’, easy to deploy Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be approved sometime in March.

Mr Surachoke Tangwiwat, a senior official with the Food and Drug Administration, has also revealed that an Indian firm, Bharat Biotech whose vaccine on the Indian subcontinent has been found to be 88% effective, has also lodged papers with Thai authorities in recent days. 

Government is open to other vaccines as a part of its broader national vaccination programme

The government has stated, in the last month, that it is open to other vaccines being used in its vaccination drive and Dr Yong Poovorawan has recently urged it to increase the number of proposed vaccines to be purchased from 63 million to 100 million to reach 70% of the adult population. 

The current plan is to reach 54% by the end of 2021.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the main component in this plan which aims to give Thailand’s population herd immunity so that the country can reopen its economy fully in the fourth quarter of the year.

AstraZeneca jab to be produced in Thailand by Thai firm Siam Bioscience in Pathum Thani

The government plans to have the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Thai firm Siam Bioscience at its Pathum Thani plant from June at a rate of 10 million doses per month under a licence agreement with AstraZeneca.

Out of this, Thailand will purchase 61 million doses in addition to 2 million doses already purchased from Sinovac Life Sciences in Beijing for the Sinovac jab.

So far, the kingdom has administered 36,000 doses of the Sinovac jab mainly in the hard-hit Samut Sakhon province of the country near Bangkok where the response has been very encouraging with plummeting infection rates.

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