Thai government feels heat from lawmakers over 'slow' vaccine roll-out

BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thailand’s government came under fire in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 17) over its coronavirus vaccine policy, with opposition lawmakers accusing authorities of being too slow to start inoculations and relying overwhelmingly on a single vaccine producer.

“Why is the government risking lives of the entire country waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine?” opposition politician Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn from the Move Forward party asked in a House debate. “Slower vaccination damages the economy and people’s livelihoods.”

Thailand has ordered two million doses from Sinovac Biotech for its early vaccine roll-out and has secured 61 million doses from AstraZeneca for its mass immunisation plan, producing those locally from June through royal-owned firm, Siam Bioscience.

Mr Wiroj said regional neighbours Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia had already started vaccinations.

Thailand’s approach has contrasted sharply with those of most South-east Asian countries, which have sought to secure deliveries earlier, from multiple providers.

The Philippines is in talks with seven vaccine makers, while Malaysia has supply agreements with five manufacturers.

Thailand has had far fewer infections, however, with 24,961 cases overall and 82 deaths.

A spokesman for the government on Sunday defended its decision not to join the international vaccine sharing facility Covax, saying it could have resulted in higher prices and uncertain delivery dates.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul rejected the criticism in Parliament and said the government’s plan guaranteed sufficient supply.

He said the AstraZeneca agreement would pay off, with a technology transfer that would help Thailand become a vaccine production hub.

Critics have questioned the suitability of Siam Bioscience as the local producer as it has yet to manufacture vaccines.

The National Vaccine Institute’s director, Dr Nakorn Premsri, on Wednesday showed reporters a letter that he said was from AstraZeneca, stating it had reviewed over 60 potential global partners and Siam Bioscience was among the 25 it selected.

AstraZeneca last month said Siam Bioscience had undergone a five-day virtual audit and all vaccine batches it produces will undergo quality testing.

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