Change of tack: the comments by the Deputy Prime Minister had a different emphasis from those of Dr Sophon Mekthon, the Chairman of the vaccination programme sub-committee which is responsible for the rollout who, on Monday, clearly tied it to the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani.
Thailand’s vaccination efforts are not dependent on the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani according to the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who told reporters on Wednesday that a contract to deliver 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough to inoculate half the population, was signed between the government and the foreign firm whose vaccine is currently the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the kingdom.
The Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, on Wednesday, appeared to distance the government from being seen to be reliant on the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani to produce the kingdom’s vaccines required for the country’s vaccination programme which, increasingly, is taking on significance as the effectiveness of vaccination efforts in the United States and the United Kingdom is becoming more apparent.
The minister was briefing the press as he revealed he had received a letter from AstraZeneca, the UK Swedish pharmaceutical firm, confirming that the second batch of 150,000 doses of its vaccine would be delivered to Thailand now from a manufacturing plant in Asia rather than Italy as originally planned following a European Union order to halt all exports from the 27 nation bloc imposed on individual governments.
50 million AstraZeneca doses already on the way
This will be in addition to 50 million doses of the vaccine that are already reportedly on the way.
The minister was not clear when the second, larger batch would arrive in Thailand but it is understood that it will arrive in March of April this year.
Mr Anutin hailed this as good news as it would allow the country to test its distribution network.
‘We have put our best efforts in to secure vaccines, and we are expecting good news to come shortly,’ he told the media. ‘If we get it, it will allow us to test our vaccine distribution network.’
Second batch of 150,000 doses will now require new Food and Drug Administration approval as it is to come from another plant in Asia instead of Italy
The minister pointed out, however, that the second batch of the vaccine which would be coming from Asia, will require further approval from the Food and Drug Administration as the clearance for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be imported, granted on January 20th by the strict government agency, was specific to the plant in Italy.
A new approval would be required for this development.
Thailand is now falling behind many countries in Asia who have tentatively begun their programmes including Myanmar, the subject of a military coup on Monday, which began its drive in January.
Success at controlling the second virus wave makes a vaccination programme a less urgent priority
Speaking to the press, however, Mr Anutin did not see the same urgency in the situation as he pointed to the relative success the Ministry of Public Health has achieved in bringing the second wave of the virus centred on Samut Sakhon under control.
‘Anyway, even if we don’t get it, it won’t have an impact on our plan to give 26 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Thais in June,’ he said.
He emphasised that the government has signed a contract with AstraZeneca to deliver two large shipments of the vaccine, one for 26 million doses and the other for 35 million units which would give his ministry the capacity to inoculate over 30 million people in the kingdom or over 50% of the population.
He referred obliquely to the Siam Bioscience technology-transfer agreement signed by the Thai firm with the foreign pharmaceutical giant and the outcome of that process.
Minster Anutin pointed out that the supply of the vaccine was strictly a contractual matter between the government and AstraZeneca
On Monday, Dr Sophon Mekthom, the chairman of the government committee with oversight of the kingdom’s vaccination campaign, appeared to put the Pathum Thani plant front and centre of the vaccination rollout when he said that Thailand’s programme would ‘kick-off’ when production at the facility commenced.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, had a slightly different outlook when he pointed out to reporters that Thailand’s contract was not with Siam Bioscience but with AstraZeneca for delivery of vaccine doses.
‘We have signed a contract with AstraZeneca for at least 61 million doses, not with Siam Bioscience. If Siam Bioscience’s plant can’t produce the vaccine, it means nothing to us. This is because the purchase agreement clearly stated that AstraZeneca will provide the vaccine, not Siam Bioscience,’ he revealed.