An exchange between the Minister of Public Health and the Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on social media shows that the focus has now shifted onto how fast the vaccination programme can be rolled out with all the signs indicating that the government has altered its plans to do so faster and as much as possible, by the end of 2021.

As the Thai Prime Minister and his cabinet took the AstraZeneca jab on Tuesday in a show of leadership to the country and determination to push on with the kingdom’s vaccination drive, the Minister of Public Health has accused the Progressive Movement activist and former MP of the now-defunct Future Forward Party of playing politics with Thailand’s efforts to return people’s lives to normalcy and secure the economy. It follows a clash between the pair over the weekend on the social media app Clubhouse.

The Thai Prime Minister and his cabinet were administered the AstraZeneca jab before Tuesday’s regular cabinet meeting at about 8.30 am approximately in Government House by Dr Yong Poovorawan, Thailand’s leading virologist and a key adviser to the government. The move comes after a health scare relating to the jab and the suspension of its use in European countries and Indonesia in the last 24 hours. Thailand suspended the use of the vaccine last Friday but following expert advice, is now pressing ahead with its deployment out of 117,300 vaccine doses delivered to the kingdom from South Korea on February 24th last.

After having his vaccination cancelled now three times, the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and members of the cabinet were vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday morning at 8.30 am just before the weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok.

It came after a panel of Thai doctors who had halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday met on Monday to give the all-clear having consulted with European countries, the European Medicines Agency and governments over the weekend.

Move follows a weekend of setbacks for the AstraZeneca jab in Europe due to blood clot fears

On Sunday, Ireland, the Netherlands and Bulgaria announced further suspensions of use of the vaccine following Iceland, Denmark, Italy and Norway last week.

Both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have defended the continued use of the AstraZeneca vaccine which is one of the critical components of the worldwide Covax programme to supply inoculation doses to poorer countries worldwide.

No evidence of ‘pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia’ based on 17 million vaccines already administered in the UK and Europe

AstraZeneca, on Sunday, referred to a database of records from up to 17 million vaccinations that have already taken place in the United Kingdom and Europe with its vaccine developed in association with Oxford University.

It said there was ‘no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia’ while the European Medicines Agency, in a statement, insisted that any risks, however minute, were outweighed by the advantages of the vaccine.

Thailand received 117,300 AstraZeneca vaccine doses on February 24th from South Korea.

Top Thai virologist claims there is always a slight chance of adverse side effects from all vaccines

This was a point made over the weekend and in the course of the last week by Dr Yong Poovorawan, Thailand’s leading virologist and a key adviser to the government.

Dr Yong, who administered the jab to the PM on Tuesday, has continuously pointed out that there are very slight side effects associated with all vaccines and attributed these to both race and hereditary factors.

Top docs say vaccine jabs are safe 

The Chulalongkorn University virologist said that Europeans and Africans were three times more likely to develop such side effects than Asian populations but even then, the number of deaths in Europe so far from the vaccine amounted to 22 out of 3 million doses administered or 7 in one million.

Dr Yong indicated that his main concern about the situation in Europe is that some sort of error in manufacturing the latest batches may have caused the current wave of problems.

Top doctor says push ahead with vaccinations

Dr Yong has urged the Thai government to push ahead with its vaccination programme and to procure more vaccines from more varied sources over and above the 63 million doses already procured of which 61 million are planned to be AstraZeneca jabs supplied by Thai firm Siam Bioscience from June this year at a rate of 10 million doses per month.

Even as Thailand tackles a Covid 19 virus outbreak in Bangkok’s Bang Khae district over the weekend, the focus of the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul was on pushing the vaccination programme and securing new vaccines.

More vaccine doses being sought as the government ramps up the campaign as PM shows leadership

There are already reports of Johnson & Johnson applying for use in Thailand of its one dose jab while the minister is understood to be in discussions to order 5 million more Sinovac vaccine doses from China and a further 20 million from AstraZeneca.

It is a similar story to Italy which even though it locked down three-quarters of the country to non-essential activity this weekend until April 6th, saw Italian Public Health Minister, Roberto Speranza, clearly emphasising the rollout out of the country’s vaccine programme even though that country has already seen a handful of deaths that have been linked with the AstraZeneca jab.

This is the context in which the decision by the government and the Prime Minister to push ahead with their vaccinations on Tuesday can be seen as an act of leadership and a positive example to the country.

Uncertainty creates a dangerous vacuum

The postponement of use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday left a dangerous vacuum which created uncertainty about the kingdom’s push to vaccinate between 54 and 70% of the population before the end of the year to achieve herd immunity and a return to normality for people’s lives and the economy.

Minister ambushed by Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Clubhouse

On Saturday, the Minister of Public Health took part in a Clubhouse event where he surprised listening guests with his participation among an audience of up to 8,000 members.

The theme of the discussion was ‘Thai vaccines: Should we go ahead?’

However, the minister was soon confronted with a question on why the government had chosen Siam Bioscience, a firm owned by the Crown Property Bureau on behalf of the Thai King, to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The minister told the audience that it was AstraZeneca who had chosen the firm but was quickly rebuffed by the former MP and leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who accused him of lying. 

‘Khun Anutin, you can’t lie to people like this,’ the Progressive Movement leader said.

He said official documents suggested otherwise and pointed out that the government had initially agreed to AstraZeneca only supplying 26 million doses by 2023 despite the state committing ฿600 million to upgrade the Siam Bioscience Pathum Thani plant prior to an official contract being signed between all the parties last October.

Thanathorn asks why documents suggested that vaccines would not be delivered until 2023?

‘According to official documents acquired by a House panel in November, AstraZeneca will fulfil all orders in 2023. Doesn’t this mean the appropriate and right time for the government is over the next 2 to 3 years?’ Mr Thanathorn asked.

The Minister of Public Health insisted on defending the current situation saying that the government’s plans had been altered and revised with more ambitious targets set.

Minister says plan has now been revised and 60 million doses will be administered in 2021

‘How could a deputy prime minister lie to the people?’ said Minister Anutin. ‘Now that we have access to the vaccines, it has been revised. I promise 60 million doses will be administered by the end of this year,’ he said. ‘After that, if demand warrants it, the plan may be revised again and new brands may be considered.’

The Deputy Prime Minister then left the discussion and later took to Facebook to explain he did not want to mar the atmosphere within the Clubhouse group.

‘I didn’t want to argue with anyone and spoil the atmosphere so I left,’ he said. ‘I haven’t lied to people, nor have I ever turned vaccines into a political issue.’

The progressive leader still has questions

Mr Thanathorn, however, did not leave it at that and followed up also on social media by pointing out that according to official documents made available in early January.

‘The government announced a revised plan on Jan 5. It aims to inoculate only 50% of the population by the end of 2021. However, according to the first plan, AstraZeneca will deliver only 16 million doses this year and another 10 million in 2022,’ he claimed.

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

Further reading:

Top docs say vaccine jabs are safe after Thai PM’s jab is cancelled for the second time in two weeks

Vaccination campaign begins in early morning jab event but hopes for more foreign tourists set back

Economy to rebound as the year progresses driven by exports and a return of mass foreign tourism

Door closing on quick foreign tourism return as economic recovery is delayed to the end of 2022

Phuket’s plan to self vaccinate on hold as Interior Ministry orders private sector out of vaccine deals

Top Thai official says vaccine passports are legally a matter for the WHO under international law

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

Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

Desperate foreign tourism business concerns are clinging to straws as they try to survive the crisis

Strict entry criteria to remain as officials await clarity on the medical status of vaccinated people