Thailand’s vaccination campaign in review

There were few topics on which more ink was spilled than our vaccine procurement program in 2021. Many feared at the start that the vaccination campaign would either go nowhere or that it would falter. 

Now that we have entered 2022, it’s worth taking a look back at how Thailand’s vaccine strategy truly turned out. 

1. The Thai government achieved its vaccination target

No evaluation of the government’s vaccination campaign can leave out the fact that the government achieved its target of giving out 100 million doses by the end of 2021. 

More than a few were skeptical when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced this goal in April, as that would have required over 300,000 doses administered per day. The initial stages of the vaccination campaign was chaotic; as the Thailand Development Research Institute summarized in July, procurement was slow, different bureaucratic agencies were not coordinating effectively and target groups were constantly changing. A question we are unable to answer is how many more lives could have been saved if the vaccination campaign had been smoother at the start.

Eventually, however, the government pulled through. Thailand’s average number of vaccinations was around 370,000 doses a day to date, according to CovidVax Live. According to the Ministry of Public Health, the government’s target was achieved on December 19th — 12 days early. 

2. Regionally, Thailand’s vaccination performance aligns with its peers

Although Thailand achieved its self-imposed vaccination goals, how did it do compared to other countries in the region? A look at the data reveals that Thailand’s performance aligns with its ASEAN peers. Thailand ranks sixth in the region in first dose coverage, virtually tied with Malaysia and Vietnam and significantly ahead of Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines. Brunei and Singapore, which both have significantly smaller populations than most of the other ASEAN member states, achieved the highest vaccination rates. Cambodia, who heavily relied on China’s vaccines, was the breakout star of mainland Southeast Asia, boasting second dose coverage of over 80 percent. The poorest performer was Myanmar, perhaps unsurprisingly given that it is marred by political turmoil. 

Vaccination Rates ASEAN Member States (Data as of January 13th, 2022)

CountryFirst dose coverageSecond dose coverageThird dose coverage
Brunei94.6%93.7%30.1%
Singapore89.0%87.0%48.0%
Cambodia84.5%81.0%24.5%
Vietnam80.3%73.2%12.9%
Malaysia79.7%78.6%25.4%
Thailand78.0%71.1%13.0%
Indonesia62.5%42.8%
Laos62.9%50.8%
Philippines52.4%48.2%3.5%
Myanmar38.7%31.1%

(Data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation)

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C), Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (R) and Yang Xin, Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese embassy, watch as a shipment of the CoronaVac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac firm, arrives in Bangkok on February 24, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

3. Thailand managed to score a diverse supply of vaccine doses, but the procurement was a rocky process

One of the biggest concerns that was raised during the initial stages of Thailand’s vaccination campaign was the lack of diversity in its vaccination supply. The government initially planned to rely mainly on locally-produced AstraZeneca, with Sinovac acting as a stopgap while the country ramped up production. The government took an excruciatingly long time to begin placing orders with other suppliers; a particularly incredulous moment was when Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul declared he had lost contact with Johnson & Johnson’s representative. The government also refused to join COVAX, the World Health Organization’s vaccine-sharing program. 

Things went from bad to worse when the government said that AstraZeneca would have to export two-thirds of the locally-produced vaccines, leaving only 5-6 million doses a month for Thailand. A turning point then appeared to come in July when a letter from AstraZeneca was leaked that the government had actually estimated the country needed only 3 million doses a month.

A number of things luckily worked in the government’s favor, however. Firstly, the government got creative with vaccine diplomacy and began sourcing doses from a variety of sources. Millions of doses entered the country as donations, while some were borrowed or bought second-hand. Secondly, and even more importantly, the mixed-dose vaccine regimen that the government began prescribing, which decreased the number of AstraZeneca doses needed, appears to have worked safely and effectively. Meanwhile, other vaccines from various suppliers began flowing in by the end of the year. COVAX, on the other hand, is mired in its own setbacks, making it fairly likely that Thailand’s refusal to join did not end up significantly hampering its vaccination campaign.

Sources of Vaccine Procurement

Vaccine BrandSources
AstraZeneca61 million doses delivered directly2.9 million doses donated by Japan, UK, South Korea, Germany 0.27 million doses borrowed from Bhutan, Singapore1.01 million doses bought from Spain, Hungary
Sinovac & SinopharmSinovac: 30.5 million delivered directly Sinopharm: 21 million doses delivereddirectly3.2 million doses donated by China
Pfizer20 million doses delivered directly1.5 million doses donated by the United States
Moderna2 million doses delivered directly1 million doses donated by the United States

(Data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation)

The result is that by 2022, Thailand has scored a diverse supply of vaccine doses. A little over 40 percent of those are AstraZeneca, while a little under that number are inactivated vaccine doses. Meanwhile, mRNA doses currently account for 27 percent of the total inoculations. 

Vaccines by Percentage of Total Doses Administered (Data as of January 13th, 2022)

Vaccine BrandTypePercentage of Total Doses
AstraZenecaViral vector41.6%
SinovacInactivated24.6%
PfizermRNA17.7%
SinopharmInactivated13.6%
ModernamRNA2.42%

(Data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation)

A health worker administers the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac firm, to a woman from an at-risk group following a Covid-19 coronavirus cluster traced to entertainment venues, at a makeshift clinic at Saeng Thip sports ground in Bangkok on April 7, 2021. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)

4. Remaining issues for Thailand’s vaccination campaign

Despite the successes of Thailand’s vaccination campaign, a number of outstanding issues still remain. 

Firstly, Thailand’s vaccination strategy was heavily focused on areas with high case counts, such as Bangkok, and tourist sandbox areas such as Phuket. As such, disparities in vaccine access continue to exist between different provinces. Data from the Department of Disease Control shows that Bangkok has a first dose coverage rate of 120% — likely an accounting of how many of Bangkok’s residents are not legally registered as living in the capital itself. Several provinces, however, still have first dose coverage at between 50-60% of the population. 

Secondly, Thailand’s domestic vaccines have yet to enter production. It was perhaps always optimistic to expect Thailand’s vaccines to succeed and enter production quickly, and at this point finding volunteers and production capacity will only get increasingly difficult. But vaccine candidates such as ChulaCov19, which is being developed by Chulalongkorn University with input from Dr. Drew Weissman, whose research was critical to the development of the mRNA vaccines, deserve continued support. If nothing else, they represent the foundations upon which Thai research and development can build upon. 

Overall, Thailand’s vaccination campaign was not the disaster that many feared it could have been. Despite a rocky start, a combination of adroit decision-making, tireless work by medical personnel, and probably a dose of luck meant Thailand’s vaccination campaign eventually became a success.

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