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COVID-19 - Thailand hitting critical period

Ben Kiatkwankul

With over a year of controlling and suppressing the COVID-19 outbreak, the real test for the country’s readiness and competency only kicks in in these recent days.

Thailand had been boasting its top-notch public health services with the relatively low number of cases and deaths. The latest outbreak has unveiled several challenges that may refute the claim.

The outbreak stemmed from many leisure gathering, predominantly parties in Thonglor, the nightlife area of the capital. Unlike last year, the new reported cases have affected ministers and high-ranked officials, celebrities, medical professionals, and white collars. Many city offices have reinstated strict “WFH” policy.

The alarming signs which reflect the current capacity to control the situation can be seen in many hospitals’ announcement that they will halt all COVID-19 testing services or stop admitting COVID-19 patients. This is due to the lack of personnel, testing equipment and solutions.

To add to the crisis, the government’s special task force, Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), has today admitted that Thailand is also running short of vaccines.

The only vaccines produced in Thailand by Thai-owned Siam Bioscience which was licensed from Astra Zeneca-Oxford University.

Another brand is imported from Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company, Sinovac, 15% shares of which is owned by Thailand's CP Pharmaceutical Group.

The government has claimed that the reason why there are only these 2 brands available was because other players have not yet, or refused, to seek Thai FDA approval. Medicines can only be distributed in Thailand with the appropriate FDA license.

As of today, 200,000 doses have been distributed, and 40,000 people have received the second dose. Thailand has a population of 70 million.

From our last update;

"The first production (of Siam Bioscience’s Astra Zeneca’s formula) yields at 26 million doses. Siam Bioscience has been preparing to produce up to 200 million doses annually, or at least 15-20 million per month.

Thailand is also expecting 2 million doses from Sinovac, a Chinese manufacturer, to be delivered in 3 batches – 200,000 in February, 800,000 in March, and the remaining 1 million in April. Sinovac’s "CoronaVac" has yet to pass the Phase 3 clinical research test.

The government promises to deliver vaccination to cover at least 50% of the Thai population by the end of this year."

The promises are looking bleak. Vaccines are only distributed with the government’s permission. Many hospitals are left without vaccines. Front-liners, such as doctors and nurses, remain unvaccinated.

Friday 2nd of April, the government eased the red tape for private procurement of vaccines, in defence for the criticisms against quasi vaccine monopoly.

It is a race against time and the government needs to see the situation for what it really is, rather than trying to maintain its good reputation for public health management. Human lives are at stake.

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