Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday addressed the questions from the opposition over the government’s coronavirus vaccine plan.
In an open letter, Anutin thanked Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Progressive Movement, for not mentioning the royal institution during his online presentation Monday night.
Thanathorn has since last week cast doubts over the government’s vaccine-procurement plan, which he says seems to be only benefiting the company Siam Bioscience. The vaccine producer is wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau.
In earlier comments he said this favouritism could be an attempt to boost the reputation of the royal institution, which has been heavily criticized by the latest pro-democracy movement. Speaking on Monday he refraining from making that link, instead pointing out that the government decision to only buy vaccines from AstraZeneca and Sinovac is delaying the vaccine rollout.
“I would like to say thank you to Mr Thanathorn for not mentioning about “royal vaccine” or referring to the royal institution anymore and I believe that Mr Thanathorn now has accurate information,” Anutin said in the letter.
He said the Ministry of Public Health and the National Vaccine Institute (NVI) are not working as slowly as Thanathorn is accusing. Anutin said both public agencies have been working on the vaccine plan since April 2020.
He said the shortage of news about government deals with foreign private companies is because the government cannot make public any information on deals still under negotiation.
Once the deals are settled, the government will tell the public, he said.
In terms of other doubts about the government’s Covid-vaccine plan and agreements, Anutin provided the following answers:
- Every vaccine producer asked governments to pay up front to reserve vaccine doses, even at the trial stage and well before production. As those payments were considered joint investments, there was no money-back guarantee.
Both of those conditions are in violation of Thai law: A public agency cannot prepay for something ahead of its production, and must be able to recover its money in the case of non-delivery.
- The government believe that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is cheaper than other producers and the vaccine is more suitable for the inoculation process in Thailand.
- AstraZeneca has offered to produce the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in Thailand as they want to use the country as a hub to provide the vaccine for other countries in South-East Asia. He said the government wanted to support the development of this potential for the country.
- The first phase of procuring of 26 million doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca and 2 million jabs from Sinovac for people at high risk of infection has been calculated by the NVI to be suitable for the situation in Thailand where the outbreak is not severe.
He said the number of confirmed cases and the death toll in Thailand is comparatively low when compared to some other countries which urgently needed the vaccines despite the lack of clarity over side effects.
He said the NVI has recommended the government reserve another 35 million jabs from AstraZeneca which would bring the total to 63 million doses, enough for 31.5 million people or 63 per cent of the 50 million people that should be vaccinated, which excludes people who are under the age of 18 and pregnant women.
He said the NVI believe that 63 million doses for the population that need to be vaccinated is enough to build an immunity for the Thai people. He also said that imported vaccines need to be very carefully stored to avoid damage.
Citing UNICEF, he said Covid vaccines should be more widely available by mid-2021 so their prices could be coming down by then as well.
- Thailand is not part of the United Nations’ COVAX Initiative because it is consider middle-income. It is in negotiations with the COVAX Initiative but will not get the vaccines for free.
Buying from COVAX would in any event also mean that the country cannot choose which company the vaccines come from or when they are delivered, the health minister said.
- The policy is not to procure vaccines from one producer only, but rather to procure the most suitable vaccines, Anutin said. Buying from AstraZeneca and Sinovac is the best option for the Thai people and the country because their proposals are better than other producers, he said
He said if there are better deals from other producers in the future, the government will consider them.
As for more details on the deals with AstraZeneca and Sinovac, Anutin said the Thai government is asking for the consent from the two companies first and that the permanent secretary of health is now proceeding with the legal steps.
Anutin concluded that the government is now expecting to inoculate the entire population that is willing to be vaccinated at the latest by early 2022.