Thailand to launch mass coronavirus vaccination drive as circumstances surge

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Thailand will launch its Covid-19 immunisation programme on Monday, targeted totally on the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab produced at Siam Bioscience, an organization owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn that has by no means beforehand produced a vaccine.

The rollout is a high-stakes one for each Prayuth Chan-ocha’s authorities, which faces rising anger from the general public and enterprise over delays in making vaccines obtainable, and AstraZeneca, which selected Thailand as its south-east Asian manufacturing hub.

Siam Bioscience will produce 200m doses of the coronavirus jab, together with for export. 

Thailand is contending with a surge in infections of about 2,000-4,000 reported new circumstances a day — the best for the reason that begin of the pandemic. 

Like its regional friends Vietnam and Taiwan, the dominion introduced reported Covid-19 infections all the way down to zero in 2020. The spike in circumstances has been blamed on extra contagious variants of the coronavirus which have unfold shortly by way of markets, prisons and employee camps.

However there have been indicators of delays in manufacturing at Siam Bioscience. The Philippines mentioned final week a primary batch of 17m doses it was anticipating from Thailand had been delayed and contracted.

Individually, Thailand’s Rural Docs Society has alleged the federal government was importing 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from South Korea to make up for a manufacturing shortfall. Some Thais have reported being instructed they might anticipate vaccination appointments in June solely to be suggested later that that they had been postponed.

The Thai authorities final week acquired supply of 1.8m doses of the jab from AstraZeneca, the primary of 6m vaccines scheduled to reach this month. It insists the rollout is on schedule however a authorities spokesman declined to answer a query from the Monetary Occasions about whether or not it will be utilizing imported jabs from South Korea alongside regionally made ones. Siam Bioscience declined to remark and AstraZeneca’s Thai workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The Thai Enquirer, an outspoken on-line publication, final week referred to as Siam Bioscience an “worldwide embarrassment”.

“Even the Serum Institute in India is having issues, so it will be mistaken to anticipate every part with first-time producer Siam Bioscience to go as clean as silk,” mentioned Pavida Pananond, professor of worldwide enterprise at Thammasat Enterprise College, referring to the Indian vaccine producer. “However AstraZeneca may do quite a bit by being extra upfront.” 

As infections surged early this yr, the Thai authorities was accused of relying an excessive amount of on a single vaccine made at a first-time vaccine producer. Extra just lately, it has moved to shore up provides of jabs from various suppliers together with Sinovac, the Chinese language pharmaceutical firm, BioNTech/Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, the US drugmaker. 

Thais’ freedom to criticise Siam Bioscience has been constrained by the truth that the billionaire king owns it, and making remarks deemed insulting to the royal household is a prison offence.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Thailand’s most distinguished opposition determine, was charged with lese-majesty and “pc crimes” in January after on-line feedback about what he referred to as the “royal vaccine”.

The 69-year-old Thai king’s energy and wealth got here beneath uncommon criticism from contributors in final yr’s youth-led democracy protests.

Extra reporting by Ryn Jirenuwat in Bangkok

Observe on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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