Opinion: Siam Bioscience has become an international embarrassment

We knew the delay was coming from Siam Bioscience, Thai Enquirer reported as much three weeks ago. According to our sources, the AstraZeneca production target for June was never going to be met by SBS and right we were.

But even before rumors began to circulate that there was a problem in the production process, observers had raised flags about SBS. As far back as last year, pro-democracy protesters had pointed out discrepancies in SBS securing the AstraZeneca contract with opposition politicians also chiming in.

We knew, even back then, that the government trusting an unproven company with no track record of producing vaccines was risky, we knew that scaling and technology transfers were going to be a problem, we knew that and we continued down the course anyway.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha asked in parliament on Tuesday whether anyone could have come up with a better vaccine plan than the one the government put in place.

As it turns out, a five year old child probably could have.

The rhetorical questions have been asked before, they warrant mention again. Why did the government not seek other vaccines immediately? Why did the government gamble with people’s lives? Why did the government feel it was a good idea to put all their eggs in the collective SBS basket?

Who knows? There are many theories. Special interests, arrogance, idiocy, whatever the reason, people have died and are continuing to die because of government incompetence.

But at least, until yesterday, the problem was localized. It is the tiniest of silver linings but at least our national embarrassment was ours.

Not anymore.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that AstraZeneca shipments to the Philippines being produced by Siam Bioscience was delayed.

According to Reuters:

“Delivery to the Philippines of the first batches of a promised 17 million doses of Thai-made AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccines has been delayed by several weeks and reduced in size, a Philippine presidential adviser said on Tuesday.”

It is bad enough that the government’s decision, backed by and lobbied for by state enterprises, has cost lives locally and has contributed to the ravages of the pandemic’s third wave.

But the government’s decision to involve politics and lobbying in a matter of life and death is now affecting our neighbours within the region.

Remember that SBS is suppose to export not only to the Philippines but to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries too.

Do not be surprised if there are delays there as well.

And if the decision comes down to whether the doses produced by SBS will be used locally for Thais or exported to other countries so the Prayut government can save face, well there is only one winner there and it isn’t the Thai people.

If and when this pandemic ever gets under control, the people responsible for this vaccination crisis must be brought to stand trial because what is happening is criminal.

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