Opinion: Thailand’s vaccine acquisition programme may be unpopular but it is ‘correct’

As the Thai government proceeds with its vaccine procurement and rollout programme, it has faced criticism over its scope and speed. A doctor from Siriraj hospital points out that comparisons with other countries are not always appropriate, and that the government’s decisions make more sense in the Thai context than might appear to non-specialists. He spoke with Thai Enquirer on condition of anonymity. His remarks have been edited and condensed for clarity.

There has been much criticism over Thailand’s vaccination program from protest groups and unqualified opposition politicians.

It is not completely their fault, the government’s defense of its vaccine manufacturing and acquisition process has been poor and the ministers who are responsible for talking about the efforts do not know the issue that well.

But to many experts within my field, our vaccine program is absolutely on track and is in line with a grander national strategy.

The first reason that our vaccine strategy is correct is that our national public health program has done a remarkable job containing the coronavirus pandemic. If one can choose one place to be during the Covid-10 pandemic, many people would choose to be in Thailand. That is because of the lower number of infections, the low mortality rate, and a population that has embraced the advise of public health officials.

The registration table to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Bang Kae Market.

This is not a coincidence but it is the culmination of decades of hard work not only in planning by the fine men and women of the public health ministry but hard lessons learned during the SARs, Malaria, and other epidemics that have struck our country.

What that means is that unlike the EU, the UK, and the United States, the acquisition of vaccines is not make or break for the country. It means that we have a lot more leeway and lag time between vaccine manufacturing and administration. Not being able to gain access to vaccines immediately will not hamper any national effort and will not result in a significantly higher number of casualties.

This in turn means that we will be able to gauge the efficacy of all vaccines being distributed around the world. Consider it a huge global trial to monitor the success rate AND the side-effects of the vaccines currently in circulation.

While the opposition and the protesters have been quick to point out that the government has thrown its eggs into two baskets by relying on only Sinovacs and AstraZeneca (produced by local company Siam Bioscience), that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case forever.

While I have no opinions on the politics of choosing the two vaccines in question, what is clear right now is that vaccine acquisition is currently expensive and it is a seller’s market. Because of the shortages seen around the globe, prices are at a premium and demand currently exceeds supplies.

That will not be the case by the end of the year. The United States looks set to inoculate their population by October, the UK by August and the EU somewhere in between. That means that by the end of the year, supplies will exceed demands and drop down the prices.

Because of our successful public health campaigns, that means that we will be able to pick and choose other vaccines to compliment the roll out of doses from Siam Bioscience.

There has also been criticisms from the opposition parties that the doses from Siam Bioscience may be sub optimal or not up to manufacturer standards. Rest assured that this is not the case.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 20, 2020 A sign is pictured outside the AstraZeneca factory in Liverpool north west England on July 20, 2020. – British drugs group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on November 23, 2020 said their jointly-developed vaccine against Covid-19 has shown “an average efficacy of 70 percent” in trials. The results ranged between 62 and 90 percent efficacy depending on the vaccine dosage. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

There are AstraZeneca reps who work consistently and constantly with the company to ensure the highest quality product. Keep in mind, AZ have their own reputation to protect and the output from SiamBioscience will be exported to the region – which means they have a lot riding on the production as well.

While I believe it is important that the opposition and the protesters keep the public health ministry and the government on their toes – I do think that we are on the right track when it comes to vaccines. Much of that is thanks to the fine doctors and public health officials who have kept the pandemic largely in check and also to the population for honoring and keeping the advice of the government.”

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