CRA involvement in vaccine procurement is “slap in the face” for government, opposition says

The stepping up by Chulabhorn Royal Academy this week to help procure Covid-19 vaccines has highlighted government inflexibility and failure, members of the opposition said Friday.

The fact that another government agency has had to step in “is a slap to the face of the government, the Ministry of Public Health, and the CCSA [Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration] showing that they lack management capabilities,” said Pichai Naripthaphan, Deputy Party Leader of the Pheu Thai Party.

“It is as if the government vaccine programme is no longer functioning,” he said, as the death toll keeps climbing while the number of available vaccines does not appear to be keeping pace.  

The Royal Gazette announced Wednesday that the Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) was granted authority to bypass red tape to procure alternative vaccines domestically or abroad.

“There is no light at the end of this tunnel, this is why other agencies are getting involved,” said Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn. “If the government was better able to diversify its vaccine sources, other agencies would not need to step in.”

Wiroj said that the allocation of new powers to the CRA shows that the government is able to move fast when it wants to. “Why is it now that the government is able to act swiftly [on CRA]? What has the government been doing [on the vaccines]?”

“The government always says regulations and bureaucracy are slowing them down. So they should be changing the rules instead of just trying to push things through faster. This shows that there is a problem with a centralized government bureaucracy that needs fixing.”

The CRA said it will help source vaccines until other supplies become sufficient.

Wiroj also said the government should consider the proposition by private company ACCAP ASSET to help the government procure 20 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm, another Chinese producer.

ACCAP ASSET announced in an open letter to CRA on Thursday that they tried to contact Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul last month.

“If they have the proper evidence and documents that is interesting and worth discussing, why is the government missing out on this possible opportunity and use regulations as an excuse?” Wiroj said.

“Why is it so hard to send government officials to meet? Is it so hard just to have a conversation? Does the government have enough vaccines?”

Wiroj conceded that ACCAP ASSET, a real-estate development company, does not have pharmaceutical credentials. But neither, he said, does the Siam Cement Group, which brokered Thailand’s acquisition of AstraZeneca vaccines, and of the know-how to produce it domestically.

“SCG is not a pharmaceutical company but they were able to connect the Ministry of Public Health with AstraZeneca producers in Oxford because they have the connection and the good will.”

“ACCAP said they can help procure vaccines to arrive within two or three weeks,” he said. “The government should send someone to talk with them and verify whether it is true or not. What is there to lose?”

Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachairi stated that the ACCAP has never contacted the government and an investigation is due to be carried out into the company’s finances.

Dr Paisarn Dunkum, secretary general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that ACCAP Assets has no licence to import vaccines and has never sought one.

A licence to import Sinopharm into Thailand has been obtained by the company Biogenetech. Paisarn said several applied but Biogenetech were the only ones to produce a certificate proving they are an authorized Sinopharm representative.

The FDA approved the emergency use of Sinopharm vaccine on Friday. Also Friday, the CRA said it will import one million doses of Sinopharm by the end of June, ordered through the Government Pharmaceutical Organization.

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