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Thailand to join COVAX, acknowledging low vaccine supply

BANGKOK (AP) – The head of Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute apologized on Wednesday for the slow and inadequate rollout of coronavirus vaccines, promising he would join the UN-backed COVAX program to receive supplies of his vaccine pool donated next year.

Thailand is grappling with a wave of punitive coronavirus that is pushing new cases and deaths to record highs almost every day. The numbers are feared to worsen as the government failed to secure large vaccine supplies ahead of the attack.

The spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus has exacerbated the situation, as the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha seeks to purchase vaccines to supplement the modest amounts it has of Sinovac and Sinopharm of China and AstraZeneca. locally produced.

In addition to not purchasing enough vaccines, Prayuth’s government has come under severe criticism as some studies show Chinese vaccines are less effective against the delta variant than those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

“I apologize to people that the National Vaccine Institute was unable to procure a sufficient quantity of vaccines suitable for the situation, although we have done our best,” said the director of the vaccine institute, Nakorn Premsri, at a press conference. “The mutations (of the virus) were something that could not be predicted, which caused it to spread faster than last year. The vaccine supply effort did not correspond to the current situation. “

He said Thailand was joining COVAX, a global initiative for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization. Nakorn said he expects Thailand to be able to receive COVAX vaccines by the first quarter of next year.

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia not to have joined COVAX. The government explained in February that because Thailand is categorized as a middle-income country, it would not get free or cheap vaccines from the program. She claimed that she would have to pay high prices up front without knowing what vaccines she would get and when she would get them.

“Buying vaccines directly from manufacturers is an appropriate choice… because it is more flexible,” government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri said at the time.

This explanation was later criticized when the government urgently imported Sinovac at a high price even though questions were already raised about its effectiveness.

Thailand has planned to administer 100 million vaccines this year and has set aside 105.5 million doses for several companies. Of these, 61 million doses were to be of AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by the King of Thailand, 19.5 million doses of Sinovac, 20 million doses of Pfizer and 5 million doses of Johnson & Johnson.

Last week, however, new doubts were cast on the plan when it was revealed that Siam Bioscience is unlikely to be able to deliver its entire share until May 2022 due to production issues.

Supakit Sirilak, head of the Department of Medical Sciences, told the same press conference that Thailand is still negotiating with other vaccine makers for additional supplies.

“Our goal of inoculating 100 million doses this year is still possible,” he said.

Thailand reported 13,002 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a new record, bringing its confirmed total to 439,477 cases.

It has administered around 14.8 million doses of the vaccine, including 10.7 million doses since June. About 11.3 million people, or 16% of the country’s 69 million people, have received at least one dose.

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