Study into side effects ordered by the PM after top doctor already presented his emphatic findings based on a study involving 1,200 patients at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. The concerns raised by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha may be linked to a warning from the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organisation Dr Somaya Swaminathan against such tactics.
A proposal to combine the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines six weeks apart to provide more powerful immunity against the Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus was approved by a top public health committee on Monday. The move later appeared to be questioned by the Prime Minister at a virtual cabinet meeting coordinated from Government House as he ordered a review of the proposal. The plan had earlier been endorsed by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul and was championed by Dr Yong Poovorawan who suggested it provided the best possible chance for Thailand to fight the advancing wave of infection devastating the country’s public health system and economy.
Thailand’s controversial vaccine programme was thrown into flux on Wednesday after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting in which Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha called for a report and study on the plan approved on Monday by the National Communicable Diseases Committee.
The green light was given by the committee following an extensive study, endorsed by Thailand’s top virologist Dr Yong Poovorawan, to combine the Sinovac vaccine with the AstraZeneca product in a two-dose cocktail which, according to the highly respected medical expert, had produced surprising levels of efficacy in creating immunity against the deadly Delta variant of the disease.
Move endorsed by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul as the best defence against the dominant Delta virus strain driving infections
The proposal, decided upon on Monday, was endorsed by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who afterwards noted that the combination of vaccines offered a better defence against the more infectious Delta variant of COVID-19.
The later intervention by the Prime Minister came after an expert at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, Dr Somaya Swaminathan, came out strongly against such tactics on Monday.
The WHO’s Chief Scientist explained that similar moves in several countries should be regarded as a dangerous trend.
She said there was no evidence available to confirm the safety of such a practice.
WHO did accept that public health agencies could make their own determinations based on local data
However, the health organisation’s top official did accept that national health agencies can make such determinations based on the information and data available to them.
‘Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can be based on available data. Data from mix and match studies of different vaccines are awaited, immunogenicity and safety both need to be evaluated,’ the top scientist advised.
PM ordered a study to look at possible side effects on the population of mixing vaccine products
This was exactly the point made by government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri on Wednesday when confusion emerged within Thailand’s public health system after what appeared to be contradictory instructions.
The Prime Minister is reported to have ordered a study to look at the possible side effects of such a course of action for vaccine recipients.
Two provinces suspended vaccinations on Wednesday
On Wednesday, officials in both Nonthaburi and the northern province of Chiang Mai suspended vaccination activities altogether until the situation is clarified.
In Chiang Mai, the local public health board said: ‘In order to end the confusion, all health units are ordered to stop vaccine service on July 14th, 2021.’
Top virologist Dr Yong gave emphatic support to the plan following his own extended hospital study
This was despite the emphatic opinion of Dr Yong who has been, reportedly, for weeks now, studying the effects of such a cocktail and whose recommendations backed by research, were accepted by the National Communicable Diseases Committee meeting chaired by Minister of Public Health Anutin on Monday.
On Tuesday, Dr Yong told the press that the combination of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines was the best combination available to Thai authorities right now and could be deployed straight away to help defeat the ongoing spread of the Delta strain of the virus.
This strain is expected to drive infection figures beyond 10,000 per day next week with rising deaths and pressure on already overwhelmed public health facilities.
Pregnant woman dies in Prachuap Khiri Khan
The shocking upsurge of this latest variant saw the demise a 34-year-old woman from Prachuap Khiri Khan who was 28 weeks pregnant. The death was announced on Monday.
This followed another tragedy in the northern province of Phrae over the weekend when a 28-week old baby was born premature and died shortly afterwards as both mother and infant were found to be infected.
Premature 28-week baby is the latest COVID-19 victim after being delivered by caesarean section on Saturday
Dr Yong has long advocated the government must prioritise its vaccination efforts as the only viable way out of the current crisis.
Research carried out on 1,200 patients at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital measuring efficacy against the Delta strain and side effects
Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of Public Health, on Tuesday, he explained that tests were conducted on both vaccine doses with the Sinovac vaccine administered first and then an AstraZeneca dose six weeks later.
The tests were carried out on a large sample of 1,200 patients at the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital.
‘Studies showed that the immunity stimulation was higher than expected,’ Dr Yong explained to the media. ‘Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccinations in series are likely to better prevent virus mutation.’
Worldwide emergence of the threat posed by the Delta strain leading to calls for third booster shots
The top virologist explained that the efficacy of all vaccines has been found to be lower when confronted with the Delta variant. This is being confirmed by studies from around the world including Israel and the United States.
In Israel, where the virus has reemerged despite over 54% of the population being vaccinated, studies have found that 90% of new infections are among people who have not been inoculated.
One study in Israel has found the Pfizer mRNA vaccine’s efficacy against the Delta strain has been reduced from 94% to 64% in terms of preventing infection with consistently high figures at preventing hospitalisations or death.
The onset of the Delta variant is leading to calls worldwide for a third booster shot which is being critically examined by public health and regulatory agencies.
Study participants tracked with the Mor Chana app, not one patient developed a serious side effect
Dr Yong, on Tuesday, explained that all participants in his study had been tracked afterwards using the Mor Channa app and that not one of the 1,200 people who took part developed any serious side effects from the vaccination cocktail of the two products.
He advised that two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered twelve weeks apart did produce a stronger immunity to the Delta virus strain than the cocktail he is proposing at six weeks apart.
This cocktail is needed now to block the Delta surge says Dr Yong and is available to Thai authorities
However, the virologist explained that in Thailand’s current ongoing emergency, an effective block against the Delta strain was needed now and that this combination was available to the country and should be used.
‘With the present rapid outbreaks, we cannot wait for 12 weeks. Strong immunity created in only six weeks is in Thailand’s highest interests given these local outbreaks,’ Dr Yong asserted. ‘Besides, Thailand still has only two types of vaccine, inactivated and virus vector. This solution is the best available at present.’