Thailand’s vaccination programme will not be complete until the end of 2022 says Health Minister Anutin
A Super Poll survey in recent days shows the public firmly behind the government and in stout agreement with the legal action being taken against the Progressive Movement leader who is still defending his controversial claims that the country’s vaccination plans are flawed and too reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine including its deal here with a firm owned by the Crown Property Bureau, a claim which last week produced a forceful and angry response from officials starting with the Prime Minister.
As the controversy over Thailand’s vaccination strategy against Covid-19 rages with Lèse-majesté proceedings being taken against Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul has suggested that the programme will not be complete until the end of 2022.
It comes after a blistering row has broken out between the government and the progressive activist who was barred from Thai politics for 10 years by the Constitutional Court early last year after his political party Future Forward was disbanded.
Mr Thanathorn is facing Lèse-majesté charges instituted by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry last week following a Facebook broadcast in which he questioned the government’s vaccination strategy and its reliance on a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau, Siam Bioscience.
Legal actions against Thanathorn are being pursued under Article 112 and the Computer Crime Act
The latter’s remarks have led to the charge that the former party leader and wealthy industrialist had defamed the monarchy.
Last week, Tossapol Pengsom of the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok confirmed to Reuters that charges against Mr Thanathorn were being pursued under both the Computer Crime Act and the Lèse-majesté provisions after his controversial comments on social media.
Siam Bioscience defends its position
In a robust response to the claims, Siam Bioscience has defended its exclusive manufacturing agreement to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in Thailand for distribution throughout the whole of Southeast Asia.
‘In October 2020 Siam Bioscience, SCG, AstraZeneca and the Public Health Ministry signed a Letter of Intent to demonstrate their joint commitment to make this vaccine available in Southeast Asia,’ a statement from the firm read. ‘This was followed by a contract manufacturing agreement between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience. This agreement also signifies that Siam Bioscience met AstraZeneca’s high technical, operational and ethical standards. Through technology transfer from AstraZeneca, Siam Bioscience is now part of AstraZeneca’s worldwide network of vaccine manufacturing partners.’
Siam Bioscience has developed a manufacturing facility in Pathum Thani which, it is reported, will be capable of producing 200 million AstraZeneca doses a year.
The firm was established decades ago under the guidance of the King’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and has an established track record for excellence.
Thanathorn renewed his criticism this week
Mr Thanathorn, however, renewed his criticism of the government this week by claiming that, as of now, the kingdom has only contracted to purchase two vaccines, the AstraZeneca jab and Coronavac from the Beijing based firm Sinovac.
He says that the country, right now, only has commitments to obtain enough vaccine doses to inoculate over 21% of the population and based on his information, the possibility of enough doses to vaccinate 50% of Thais by the end of 2022.
He said that even this would not be sufficient to give the kingdom herd immunity which would require that 70% of people be vaccinated and said that it would be the end of 2023 before Thailand could see this happening.
Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul highlighted that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be manufactured in Thailand for Asia
This was what drew the fire of Minister Anutin who made the claim that this figure of 70% would be achieved by the end of 2022.
The minister defended the government’s approach as one based on caution.
‘Every process has been overseen by medical doctors and experts because the government considers public safety of paramount importance and we would never politicise the vaccine issue,’ he said.
He emphasised the government was proceeding according to a carefully laid out plan and that the Siam Bioscience facility in Pathum Thani meant that the kingdom would be a manufacturer of the vaccine.
‘Furthermore, we also have the capability to produce Covid-19 vaccines locally so we don’t have to worry about competing over vaccines with other countries,’ he underscored.
Timeframe of the vaccination effort is now emerging as the critical factor for economic recovery
The speed at which Thailand can achieve herd immunity or an effective vaccination outcome is now emerging as the critical factor also for its economic prospects with many business concerns hoping that by the end of 2021, the country may find itself in a safe position.
The achievement of herd immunity even one year later instead of two will not be good news.
However, there are other factors such as vaccination programmes in other countries and the effects of initial vaccinations with different medical opinions on what it takes to effectively suppress the threat from the disease.
Current plans to vaccinate over 50% this year
Thailand plans to have 50% of its population vaccinated by the end of 2021 with a full rollout beginning in May using 26 million AstraZeneca doses manufactured here in Thailand. It is understood that the first vaccine jab will be administered in the country next month on February 14th.
The third and final stage is to begin in 2022 with an initial 35 million doses already contracted from the UK Swedish firm for its vaccine developed in association with Oxford University.
Thailand has now secured 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a plant in Italy to open its programme and has signed a deal for 2 million Sinovac doses from China. This vaccine is still awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval here.
The first in line to be vaccinated will be a front line medical staff member in Samut Sakhon at the epicentre of the current outbreak with over a million to be inoculated initially across the health service and among the most vulnerable including the aged and those with serious underlying conditions.
97% support prosecution of Thanathorn for Lèse-majesté according to the latest Super Poll research
An opinion poll in Thailand in the last few days conducted by Super Poll Research Centre appears to show overwhelming support among the public for the official line with 97% coming out in favour of the legal proceedings against Mr Thanathorn, the young tycoon, for Lèse-majesté.
Polls have consistently shown in Thailand a reluctance on behalf of the public to see the monarchy drawn into controversy but this margin appears to be quite remarkable.
The results of the poll were presented by Associate Professor Noppadon Kannika, the director of the survey agency. He said the poll was conducted from January 21st to 24th among a sample of 1,800 people. He also identified strong support for the controversial section of the Criminal Code.
‘Moreover, 93 per cent of respondents believe Article 112 helps maintain peace in the country, while only 7 per cent disagree,’ the pollster affirmed.
About the Author
James Morris is a pename for an international writer based in Bangkok who works on various international news media. He is a sub editor with the Thai Examiner news website since it began in 2015. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.