With a surge in infections being reported on Wednesday, driven by the more infectious Delta variant of Covid-19, Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, the government spokesman has warned the public that it will have to learn to live with a new level of threat from the disease. It comes as a top doctor at a Bangkok hospital has come forward to say he is aware of people dying at home who may not be included in the official tallies. There is also an emerging demand for mRNA vaccines among the public and health personnel on the front line. However, the boss of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) warns that the much sought after Moderna vaccine will not be available until next year.  

The rising threat from the Delta variant of Covid-19 was confirmed by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Tuesday when it disclosed that the more infectious strain now accounted for 52% of all infections in Bangkok and had nearly doubled its impact in the provinces. The CCSA spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin warned the Thai public that they would have to adjust to the new threat when he suggested that fully vaccinated people should wear two masks while in public. It comes also as there is growing disillusionment over the vaccine rollout while the contents of a leaked government document from a meeting within the Department of Disease Control last week showed public health advisors discussing the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine from China for frontline health workers and the use of mRNA vaccines as booster shots.

vaccinated-people-must-wear-two -face-masks
The grim outlook facing Thailand as the Delta variant of the virus makes its way through the population with surging infection rates and death tallies has prompted Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin (centre) to warn even fully vaccinated people to wear two face masks in public. It comes as the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha (right), was, this week, forced to work from home after coming in contact last week with an infected business representative in Phuket while the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul (left) confirmed the authenticity of a leaked Department of Disease Control report where key advisers were recorded discussing the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine for front line medical staff.

Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) confirmed on Tuesday that the latest wave of the virus, which has been causing rising infection rates and deaths, is being driven by the Indian or Delta variant of the disease technically referred to as B1617.

It follows a stark briefing given by the top CCSA spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin in which he warned the public it would have to adapt to the new variant strain which is about to dominate the country. The public health official confirmed that the new strain is significantly more infectious.

It comes as Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has been forced to work from his army compound home in the Bang Khen area of Bangkok after coming in contact with a Chamber of Commerce member at a reception in Phuket last week for the Sandbox initiative who later tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. 

Delta variant is more infectious and is driving daily infection tallies consistently above 5,000 per day

The Delta variant is 50 to 60% more infectious than the UK Alpha variant or B117, which itself, was 50 to 60% more infectious than the initial variant of the virus that dominated the kingdom up to the beginning of April when it launched the 3rd wave.

On Wednesday, the infection numbers surged to 6,514 according to the daily report from the Ministry of Public Health. There were 54 new deaths. 

On Tuesday, the kingdom registered 57 deaths, the worst day since last Friday’s tally of 61 which was the highest so far with rising daily infection rates with consistent tallies over 5,000.

Delta variant now accounts for 52% of all new cases in Bangkok driving a deadly fourth wave expanding into the provinces where its share doubled in a week

Medical experts point out that it causes a higher infection rate among families with nearly all members of households coming down with this variant of the disease including younger people.

The government spokesman confirmed that it now accounts for 52% of all new cases in Bangkok where the fourth wave of the virus has emerged.

It also appears to be gaining ground in the provinces outside the capital with 18% of cases from June 28th to July 2nd coming from the variant compared to the week earlier running from June 21st to June 27th.

It comes as Assistant Professor Dr Smith Srisont, Head of Forensic Medicine  Laboratory at the Department of Pathology Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital Mahidol University, on Wednesday came forward to make claims that many deceased older people he has examined and who had died at home, were found to be infected.

On this basis, he feared that the number of deaths reported may be understated and came to this conclusion after examining the bodies of four deceased people from the inner city of Bangkok on Tuesday.

‘We have to adjust our lives to cope with it’ says top government official at grim daily briefing

‘Other regions are following the same pattern as Bangkok,’ Dr Taweesilp told the briefing. ‘We have to adjust our lives to cope with it.’

Dr Taweesilp later clarified that this means wearing double face masks, even for those who have been fully vaccinated, such is the threat represented by this new wave or variant of the virus.

Delta rising beyond the capital with growing concern for health workers and the need for booster shots

The scale of the threat posed by the Delta variant, not only in Bangkok but now as it spreads beyond the capital, has sparked concern for health workers who were vaccinated from the beginning of March this year in the first phase of inoculation, which except for 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca flown in from South Korea, comprised almost entirely of the Sinovac vaccine.

Turkey, which earlier this year embraced the Chinese vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation for its campaign, has recently announced that it is proceeding with an offer of mRNA booster vaccines to those who have received the inactivated type of vaccine based on older technology.

Sinovac approved for adults under 60 by the WHO but its efficacy for frontline health workers questioned

The WHO approved the Sinovac vaccine for adults aged under 60 but there are question marks over its efficacy in medical environments following a disappointing performance in an initial field test in Brazil in January where the efficacy rate was only 50.4% according to the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, Brazil which also confirmed a 78% efficacy rate at preventing ‘mild to severe’ Covid-19 infection.

In January, Thailand’s respected top virologist, Dr Yong Poovorawan, specifically defended the use of the Sinovac vaccine for hospital staff and the vaccine’s efficacy has also been praised in Turkey and Bahrain which have since moved to provide mRNA booster shots for their populations.

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

Questions have been raised about the Chinese vaccine following a leaked document from the Ministry of Public Health which this week was confirmed as authentic by Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.

Minutes of a meeting at the Department of Disease Control on June 30th last in Bangkok about the use of 1.5 million Pfizer jabs donated by the USA

The document details what appears to be minutes of a meeting among three committees at the Department of Disease Control in Bangkok on June 30th last including an academic committee established under the Communicable Disease Act 2015, an advisory group on antibodies as well as another academic advisory group on the country’s ongoing vaccination campaign.

The topic under discussion was the application of mRNA vaccines or specifically doses of the Pfizer vaccine which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration at the end of June.

From the minutes, it is evident that the government is to obtain an early shipment of 1.5 million Pfizer vaccines from the US government promised by US President Joe Biden on the 10th June last when he committed the United States to supplying 500 million doses of American vaccines to countries worldwide with ‘no strings attached’.

Meeting told the use of mRNA vaccines as booster shots for healthcare workers would question the efficacy of the Sinovac doses administered

It was already public knowledge that Thailand was due to receive 20 million Pfizer jabs as contracted for between the government and the Manhattan-based US Pharmaceutical giant just the day before and confirmed on June 9th. 

Anutin signs up Pfizer for 20 million doses but warns that Covid-19 may be with us for some time into the future

However, the notes from the meeting including a selection of quotes from participants, showed that there was a discussion on the use of Pfizer mRNA vaccines.

One proposal was to use them to vaccinate young people aged 12 to 18, the other was to focus on at-risk groups including the elderly, those with chronic underlying conditions and pregnant women while thirdly the prospect of applying the jabs as booster shots to front line medical personnel was discussed.

In response to the latter proposal, however, one meeting participant made a very influential comment. 

‘At present, if it (the Pfizer jab) is administered on the third group, it is tantamount to admitting the Sinovac vaccine offers no protection. This will make it harder to defend it.’

Hundreds of vaccinated doctors, medical personnel infected after being vaccinated, some critical

The comment follows a strong basis for administering booster shots to front line staff as it is reported hundreds of fully vaccinated doctors and medical staff have become infected after being fully vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine.

Some are reported to be in a critical condition prompting calls from representative bodies and amongst health professionals for the deployment of mRNA booster shots.

The response to the leaked comments from the Ministry of Public Health was mixed with the Director of the Department of Disease Control, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, denying the document had any official standing.

He was critical of any attention being paid to it.

‘Its format is not even a standard meeting agenda. Different opinions are expressed at any meeting and propagating one comment out of its context is not right. It’s not fair to other participants,’ Dr Opas said while Minister Anutin admitted it was authentic but insisted that no decision had been made at the meeting.

Dissatisfaction with late availability of the Moderna vaccine with massive public demand for the product

There is also increased public dissatisfaction with the inability of private hospitals to gain access to the Moderna mRNA vaccine which along with the Pfizer product, is a favourite option among the Thai public as confirmed in several surveys alongside AstraZeneca. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective.

Reports from hundreds of private hospitals who have been marketing a commercial service offer for the public to pay for their own vaccine package with two Moderna shots at a cost of approximately ฿3,700 has generated up to nine million expressions of interest including a large segment of the country’s expat community and foreigners who have expressed a preference for this vaccine.

Demand for the shot could be seen this week when, on Monday, Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok advertised bookings for Moderna and was inundated with takers so that the offer was sold out within five minutes.

The revelation comes amid a mood of uncertainty and anger towards the government for its perceived mishandling of this latest outbreak and the continued failure of the country’s vaccination campaign to achieve its goals.

Delivery of AstraZeneca short of quotas promised says MP with two-thirds being exported from Thailand

These failures are increasingly exemplified by the shortage and undersupply of AstraZeneca vaccines which are manufactured here in Thailand.

The shortage in promised quotas for June has again meant that vaccination appointments have had to be rescheduled.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a Move Forward MP, in recent days, pointed out that only 5.37 million doses of the locally produced vaccine were delivered in June compared to 6.3 million doses promised.

He said he obtained his information from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

He also claimed the Siam Bioscience plant in Pathum Thani was now producing 15 to 17 million doses per month but only one third or 5 to 6 million doses were being delivered to the government for the Thai public.

‘There is also a report that from July, AstraZeneca Thailand will export vaccines to other countries, and only one-third of the vaccines produced will be reserved for Thailand,’ the MP claimed.

Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) boss says a contract will be signed for Moderna only in August and delivery will be early next year

Dr Vitoon Danwiboon, the Director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) moved to dampen expectations this week by making it clear that the earliest the Moderna vaccine will be available in Thailand is the beginning of 2022.

‘The GPO contacted Moderna Inc in the US to buy its vaccines and the company replied that it would deliver the vaccines in the first quarter next year at the earliest,’ he said.

The government agency boss dismissed reports from private hospital operators that they can purchase the vaccine directly from Moderna by insisting all orders must be placed through the only authorised agent in Thailand, Zuellig Pharma, to conduct vaccine imports for the private sector.

Money must be paid over first by hospitals

Currently, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) has failed to sign a contract with Moderna as it is insisting that all funds required to honour it must, at the outset, be paid over from the private hospital network before it takes such a step.

Mr Vitoon said he expected that a contract will be signed with the US-based firm, one of the first in the world to receive US government emergency approval for its highly effective mRNA vaccine, in August.

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