Major hurdles remain for Thailand’s vaccine drive

The government of Prayut Chan-ocha has finally prioritized vaccinations as a means to stop the pandemic but major hurdles remain to inoculate the population including production concerns and vaccination capacity, a source told Thai Enquirer on Tuesday.

Over 56,000 people have been infected since the third wave of the pandemic began on April 1. It has been the deadliest period of the pandemic so far in Thailand with over 300 deaths and counting.

The government’s previous lethargy in vaccine acquisition and distribution has meant that the majority of Thais have not been inoculated leaving the Prayut administration to play catch up.

The original plan to rely mostly on locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines has been amended and the Ministry of Public Health have aggressively pursued importations of other vaccines over the last fortnight.

However, the Siam Bioscience produced AstraZeneca vaccines will still play a major role in the government’s public health plan. The company’s doses were just quality-approved by AZ’s headquarters in the UK. It is due to produce an initial six million doses in June before ramping up to ten million per month until the end of the year.

However, a senior source within the Ministry of Public Health told Thai Enquirer on Tuesday that there has been a problem scaling up production within Siam Bioscience and initial reports suggest that the company will not be able to produce half the expected number of vaccines by June.

“They’re having problems scaling up their operations so whatever the estimate is right now for June, the number they produce wont be half of that,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Calls to the AZ representative in Thailand was not immediately returned. Calls to the Siam Bioscience public relations office were also not returned.

However, according to the Ministry of Public Health source, the low number or produced vaccines “did not matter anyway.”

“Even if we get 20 million vaccines from them in June, it doesn’t matter because we do not have the capacity to vaccinate at a high number,” the source said.

“That is the reason we are asking private hospitals for help because we don’t have logistical capabilities to administer millions of vaccines per month.”

The source said that the last problem was a administrative one. As the main site of the outbreak has been in Bangkok, the largest vaccination drive must be in the capital.

“The Ministry of Public Health doesn’t have jurisdiction in Bangkok, the governors office is insisting that they run the show and so far there has not been enough coordination between organizations,” the source said. “I am not sure if the governor sees this as a PR trip ahead of Bangkok gubernatorial elections.”

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