Thailand moves to join COVAX to address vaccine shortfall

Thailand will now join the COVAX programme, the National Vaccine Institute (NVI) said on Wednesday, after holding out from joining the international cooperation framework for months.

“Even though we have tried our hardest, the vaccines that we have procured so far are still not enough for the current outbreak situation,” said Dr Nakorn Premsri, the director of the NVI, adding that there had been “many agencies and many regulations involved with the procurement.”

To supplement current supplies, “we are looking to bring in second-generation vaccines that are effective against the mutation and we are expecting them to arrive by the first quarter of next year,” he said.

The institute is at the stage of “beginning of the negotiation and the sending of a letter to Gavi to state the intention to join the COVAX programme.”

The COVAX programme aims to provide equitable access to Covid vaccines globally and is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are currently 172 countries participating as donors, recipients or some combination according to the WHO website. Thailand has so far been one of just a handful of countries not to join, which also includes Turkey and Russia.

The country signed a contract to produce 61 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines domestically under licence. Production was slated to reach 10 million doses per month from June until the end of 2021.

However, the government said that AstraZeneca has told them last week that they will only be able to deliver around 5-6 million per month and the total of 61 million doses will not be reached until May 2022.   

The government has also signed a deal to buy 10.9 million doses of Sinovac from China, which are arriving in monthly shipments, and 20 million doses of Pfizer which are expected to arrive within the fourth quarter of 2021.

Outbreak situation

Nearly 80 per cent of Covid cases that were found in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) over the past month were mild cases, and more community isolation facilities are being built for them, the government said on Wednesday.

“We are seeing more than 10,000 cases per day but the majority of the patients were in the green groups,” said Dr Apisamai Srirangson, the assistant spokeswoman of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

The government categorizes Covid patients into colour-coded groups: asymptomatic (light green), mild symptoms (dark green), moderate symptoms (yellow) and critical condition (red).

“The light green and dark green group accounted for nearly 80 per cent but cases in the yellow and red groups are also rising,” she added.  

From the sample size of 34,808 Covid patients found to be infected between June 20 and July 20, 52 per cent (18,025 cases) were asymptomatic, 26 per cent (9,154 cases) were mild cases, 18 per cent (6,299) were moderate cases and 4 per cent (1,330) were severe cases.

Of the 1,330 severe cases, 440 required a ventilator to breathe and 64 have died.

As there is a shortage of hospital beds and there are increasing asymptomatic and mild cases, the government has launched a home isolation programme and is also building more community isolation facilities and field hospitals for patients in the green groups, Apisamai said.

The community isolation programme was set up to take in people whose home was not appropriate for the home isolation programme. Apisamai said there are now 49 of such facilities in 47 districts of Bangkok.

The total capacity for all 49 facilities is 5,365 patients but only 19 facilities are operational at the moment.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has instructed local authorities in the capital to build at least one more community isolation in each of the 50 districts of Bangkok, with a capacity of at least 100 patients per facility.  

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