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COVID-19 - Thailand's Vaccine Procurement is "on track"

Ben Kiatkwankul

Despite the criticisms concerning the poor management of Coronavirus 2019 vaccine distribution, the Public Health officials reassure the citizens that Thailand is well on track.

Approximately 619,000 doses distributed since its first inoculation. Only 0.1% of the entire population (some 82,000 people) have received the necessary 2nd jabs, with concentration in the previously high-risk areas such as Samut Sakhon where a large cluster broke to give rise to the so-called second wave outbreak around the end of last year (2020), and Phuket, where the government wishes to open the border for incoming tourists.

The third outbreak stemmed from the cluster surrounding entertainment and night life venues, largely in Bangkok’s Thonglor district. As a response, the government ordered bars and restaurants to close at 9pm in 18 high-risk provinces (red zones), no alcohol to be sold or consumed on premises, but no strict lockdown.

A daily update from the CCSA, the Prime Minister announced that the government is in the middle of negotiation to procure vaccines from 5 additional companies from 4 countries (number of countries who used each vaccine);

  1. Pfizer, USA (72)

  2. Sinopharm, China PRC (19)

  3. Sputnik V, Russia (18)

  4. Covaxin by, India (1)

  5. Convidecia (Ad5-ncov), China PRC (?)

An extraordinary committee has been set up to handle the procurement, safety and quality of the 5 vaccines.

The existing vaccines currently in being inoculated in Thailand include Thai-owned SiamBioscience-produced Oxford/AstraZeneca (71), and Sinovac (11).

According to the Department of Disease Control under the Ministry of Public Health in its official vaccine inoculation guideline, target groups for inoculation is divided into 2 phases:

Phase 1 - When vaccines are scarce

  1. Medical personnel and frontliners (public and private)

  2. Persons with underlying medical conditions (acute respiratory diseases, cardio-vascular diseases, stage 5 chronic kidney disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity)

  3. Persons of 60 years of age and above

  4. Officers with high exposure to risk groups (such as immigration officers, border patrol authorities)

Phase 2 - When vaccines are adequate

  1. Continuing to fullfil Phase 1

  2. Other medical personnel

  3. Workers in tourism and hospitality industry

  4. Workers who require frequent overseas travels

  5. General public

  6. Diplomats, international organisation officers, foreign businessmen, foreign residents

  7. Industrial workers and services

The document provides no indication of a definite timeline.

The prime minister nevertheless, was said to have accelerate the procurement process resulting in the June arrival of 1.3 million more doses of Sinovac and 1.5 million of Astra Zeneca.

First week of the vaccine arrival will focus on medical professionals, and other professions with exposure to patients in high-risk areas. In the second week, the general public in high-risk areas will be vaccinated, as well as medical professionals in medium-risk areas. Comes the third week, the vaccines will be distributed among the people residing in the medium-risk areas, and medical professionals in low-risk areas.

According to a policy analyst, the major restriction for private acquisition of vaccine on top of the FDA regulations is the fact that Coronavirus 2019 vaccines cannot be commercially distributed - ie. private acquisitors can only sell to the government who will then distribute to the public. Only 3 brands (J&J, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca) out of all 13 brands of COVID-19 vaccines are endorsed by World Health Organization’s Emergency Use Listing or EUL. The rest was granted under the permission of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), which means the quality and safety control procedures have been shortened to match with the urgency.

A special task-force is currently considering ways to ease such constraints whilst ensuring maximum public health safety. There have been talks of a couple of possibilities. One suggestion is for the government to issue authorisation letter for importers, another is to have the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) act as the middle man in procuring vaccines and sell to private entities. The key issues for both options remain in the responsibilities concerning side effects and quality, as well as the costs for distribution. The government has been supplying vaccines for free so far.

The current situation has posted a real challenge for Thailand. Any delay in addressing the issue may hinder investors’ confidence even further.

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