Deputy Director at the Department of Disease Control says Sinovac will not be ordered when stocks run out after October but said the vaccine, because it is an inactivated product, could be suitable later for the vaccination of children or teenagers under 18 years of age. It comes as the Chinese Embassy, in a strongly worded social media announcement, accused Sinovac critics of engaging in ‘serious wrongdoing’.
Following last week’s hard-hitting debate in parliament in which purchases of the controversial Sinovac vaccine took centre stage, it has emerged that the Thai Ministry of Public Health is to halt the use of the jab after October when current supplies run out according to the Deputy Director of the Department of Disease Control Dr Sophon Iamsirithaworn. It comes even as the cabinet, on Tuesday, approved the purchase of 12 million more doses for ฿4.25 billion to be delivered in September and October. It follows a strongly worded complaint issued by the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok this week and a warning from the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Don Pramudwinai that damage may have been caused to the relationship between Thailand and China over the affair.
This week, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok issued an abrasive statement taking issue with the now widespread criticism of the Sinovac vaccine in Thailand.
The announcement came on the embassy’s Facebook page and warned that the criticism was impairing the strong and warm relationship between Thailand and the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese Embassy statement points to the success of Sinovac in Indonesia and Chile with 85% to 95% efficacy and its World Health Organisation approval
The statement went on to highlight the success of the inactivated type vaccine, which, it pointed out, has been used extensively by the governments of Indonesia and Chile and found to have 95% and 85% efficacy rates respectively in controlling infection from the virus.
The Chinese statement also noted that this includes different variants of the disease including the now dominant Delta strain in Thailand.
It comes amid reports that the Thai Department of Disease Control is planning to phase out the use of the Sinovac vaccine after October.
The statement noted that the Sinovac vaccine was approved by the World Health Organisation and had also been approved in Thailand by the Food and Drug Administration.
It described each dose delivered to Thailand as an extension of the friendship and sincerity that exists between the Chinese government to both the Thai people and their government.
Heated censure debate in parliament saw allegations linked with government procurements of Sinovac front and centre on price and quality
The extraordinary pronouncement from a foreign embassy in Thailand follows a heated government censure debate last week in which opposition parties pressed the government quite hard on the issue.
In particular, there were extremely tough questions for the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.
The opposition’s attack rested very strongly on the country’s reliance on the vaccine, its efficacy and the purchase price of the jab with claims of a lack of transparency.
The opposition queried cabinet approval for the purchase of Sinovac for $17 a dose and noted that the final cost of the product varied from between $9 and $17. MPs questioned the difference of $64 million.
Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) boss explained that $17 a dose was a limit set by cabinet
This was addressed in parliament by Dr Witoon Danwiboon of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) who explained that the budget was just a limit set by the cabinet and that there was no discrepancy as his organisation only paid the net amount due which was sometimes as low as $9 a dose.
This latest purchase, agreed by the cabinet on Tuesday, works out at $10.82.
It was also explained that Thailand paid more per dose than Brazil or Indonesia as it imported the packaged doses ready to serve.
‘Brazil and Indonesia paid less because they were research areas where the vaccine was bought and locally bottled. Thailand, on the other hand, bought the vaccine in the standard package,’ explained the agency head.
The efficacy of the vaccine itself especially against the more virulent Delta strain of COVID-19 has been questioned by doctors as well as the public but some medical experts have underlined that it would be wrong to describe the Sinovac vaccine as an inferior product.
Top doctor in July recommended the government discontinue the use of Sinovac, it was wrong however to say it was lower quality, he insisted
At the height of the current crisis, driven by the Delta variant, in July, Dr Prasit Watanapa of Siriraj Hospital’s Faculty of Medicine, a key advisor to the Prime Minister, called for the Sinovac vaccine to be dropped saying it was not as effective at dealing with the Delta variant.
He called for the use of western type mRNA vaccines such as the one manufactured by Pfizer to be deployed instead.
‘Pfizer vaccines are better. From now on, the government should avoid placing orders for Sinovac vaccines because they have efficacy problems. It should look at vaccines of high quality such as AZ and J&J, mRNA vaccines and protein subunit vaccines such as Novavax,’ he said.
Chinese Embassy in Bangkok accused Sinovac critics of ‘wrongdoing’ as Foreign Minister spoke of a ‘blow’ to Thailand’s ‘good friend’ relationship with China
Referring to critics of Sinovac at the weekend, the statement from Chinese officials in Bangkok said: ‘The Chinese embassy urges them to stop this serious wrongdoing.’
The statement from the Chinese embassy was followed by one in a similar vein from the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don Pramudwinai, issued through the ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat.
He expressed concern that some of the comments made in parliament last week by those critical of the vaccine may cause the public to be misguided.
The minister expressed his concern about the negative impact that the debate may have had on Thai Chinese relations.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Don praised the Sinovac vaccine and says some commentary in parliament may have been erroneous and misguided
Mr Don went on to observe that Sinovac was being deployed in 39 countries around the world.
‘Those attempts to devalue the vaccine for personal gain have dealt a blow to Thailand’s good relations with a good friend,’ said Mr Don. ‘Some of the information presented by the opposition about the quality of the Sinovac vaccine contained errors.’
Department of Disease Control boss says Sinovac played a critical role in saving lives in the kingdom
At the same time, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong of the Department of Disease Control has praised the Chinese made vaccine’s role in helping contain the COVID-19 threat earlier in the year particularly when the availability of other vaccines worldwide was low.
‘By having the vaccine at that time, we were able to control the outbreak and save many lives. Of course, all vaccine efficiency is reduced by the Delta variant, but it doesn’t mean Sinovac is ineffective. Please do not devalue the vaccine,’ he said. ‘With regard to corruption, I would like to assure people of the ministry’s transparency in its vaccine management plan. The Chinese government is concerned about corruption so there is no ‘exchange’ for the vaccine purchase.’
Thailand moving towards the use of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines in its ongoing vaccination programme
It now appears, however, that Thai authorities will be moving towards the use of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines with plans and contracts in place to import up to 140 million doses by the end of 2021.
The debate over the efficacy of various vaccines has led to respected Thai doctor, Dr Yong Poovorawan, who was responsible for the government’s innovative policy of mixing vaccines to achieve higher efficacy against infection, observing that no vaccine can absolutely prevent infections but that all vaccines are effective at preventing serious illness and death.
‘The vaccines cannot create herd immunity because they cannot prevent infections, but at the very least they can prevent severe sickness,’ Dr Yong said this week.
Sinovac may reemerge for use in Thailand to vaccinate children and teenagers under 18 years of age
The Deputy Department of Disease Control Chief at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Sophon Iamsirithaworn has, in the meantime, said that Sinovac is safe for children and teenagers aged under 18 years of age.
He has confirmed that Sinovac is being used in the current vaccination programme until the end of October in conjunction with AstraZeneca as per the recommendation to the government in recent months by Dr Yong of the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University.
However, he suggested, there are no plans to buy more Sinovac vaccines after that but this may change if the Chinese vaccine is seen to be an attractive option for vaccinating children as inactivated vaccines are considered to be safer for this particular group.
The situation may also change if Sinovac is updated as is being suggested by its manufacturer in China, to deal with new variants of the COVID-19 virus which are constantly emerging.