Opinion: The government is fumbling its vaccine deadlines as badly as its excuses

First it was the suggestion to extract an extra two doses out of each AstraZeneca bottle, then comes the delay of the second jab from 10 to 16 weeks.

Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, the Ministry of Public Health’s permanent secretary, said on Monday that the delay of the second dose to 16 weeks is meant to increase efficacy, and comes recommended and backed up by research.

His comments came after many people who got their first jab of AstraZeneca, including elderly and people with one of seven designated chronic diseases, have been told that their second dose will be delayed.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, however, received his second dose on Monday, 10 weeks after he received his first dose on March 16.

If the best practice right now is to wait 16 weeks, why give the leader of this country his second dose at 10 weeks?

In the United Kingdom, the recommendation is four to 12 weeks.

In Europe, the maximum is 12 weeks. Only one country, Spain, had went beyond the European Medicines Agency’s recommendation.

On top of that, the 16-week interval has not undergone any human trials anywhere.

So where did the Thai Health Ministry get the so-called research that prove waiting 16 weeks is better?

Kiattiphum said the extension had nothing to do with the shortages of vaccines, but information coming out of the Health Ministry is suggesting otherwise.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Monday explained that no matter how many doses can be extracted from a vial, each dose must contain 0.5 ml of the vaccine. The vials officially each contain 10 doses, but several countries have reported being able to safely get 11 out of them.

He also said that he himself never mentioned that the locally made AstraZeneca vaccine by Siam Bioscience (SBS) would be delivered by June 1.

The squeezing of extra doses from each vial, the delay on the second jab, and the side-step comment on deadlines by the health minister all reek of one dreadful reality, that the first batch of SBS’s vaccines might not be coming on time, as many have expected.

According to the ministry, SBS was supposed to delivered 500,000 doses on May 21. Where are they?

SBS continued to make no comment as of Tuesday while AstraZeneca said to media on Monday that they will provide an update soon.

If SBS cannot deliver as promised, this will be a huge blow to the country, which is largely depending on this vaccine.

Around 20-30 people have been dying every day for past two weeks, and many more will die if the roll out is delayed.

The government will also run out of all the excuses that they have been giving for why we only have 6 million doses of Sinovac and 117,000 AstraZeneca vaccines so far.

June 7 is the next deadline, when Anutin said anyone aged 18 and above can register for a vaccination. We will have to wait and see if the Prayut administration can deliver on this promise that the SBS roll out will be within June.

I really hope they do or else more people will die because of their mismanagement.


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