Opinion: Gov knew since October no local vaccines until mid-2021; questions must now be asked

The Thai government’s decision to not import vaccines as quickly as possible must be questioned now that it is confirmed that the government knew that locally produced AstraZeneca doses would not be available until the middle of this year.

In a press release dated to October 2020, Thailand’s Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul and the chairman of Siam Bioscience said that the country should not expect vaccines from SBS until the middle of 2021.

“…the company is aiming to have the first batch of vaccines available in the middle of next year,” reads the press release.

In light of this revelation, the government’s decision to only import the Sinovacs vaccine (which has not been approved by the World Health Organization), a limited supply of European-produced AZ vaccines, and no other alternative is criminally negligent.

The government decided in October to gamble on Sinovacs imports and hope that SBS would be able to quickly start operations and then scale it up significantly. It was a gamble that backfired spectacularly. People have died because of this decision.

While other alternatives like Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and even AZ vaccines from other producers have made their way to neighbouring countries and territories including Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, Thailand has had to rely on a patchy vaccination program.

The government, through incompetence or arrogance, thought that its public health program was enough to keep a lid on infections and keep casualties low. It gambled with people’s lives and livelihood.

The statistics tell the rest of the tale. Over 100,000 infected since April 1, over 1,000 dead. SBS, as was revealed last week, is unlikely to meet its June and July production targets.

Questions must be asked by the public and by the members of the opposition why the government were so cavalier with the public’s well-being at stake. Questions must also be asked about responsibility, with those responsible censured and removed from office.

As an aside it is interesting to note that in the same press release, it appears that both the Ministry of Public Health and one of Thailand’s largest corporations lobbied AstraZeneca hard to award the contract to SBS.

The press release is from the Siam Cement Group, it also quotes Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

“SCG is delighted to help facilitate this critical technology transfer. SCG and Oxford University have been research and development partners for a long time,” the statement goes on.

Why were both the ministry and SCG lobbying so hard for SBS? That is another question opposition politicians must ask.

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