Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Sunday gave the official go-ahead for private hospitals and other companies to directly purchase coronavirus vaccines from overseas, but won’t be able to use the drugs until the government approves them.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said private firms would have to register any vaccine with the Food and Drug Administration (with clinical-trail documentation covering quality, safety and effectiveness.
He added that the FDA is assembling experts to accelerate the approval of other Covid-19 vaccines than one from AstraZeneca Plc. which the FDA approved last week.
As such, the OK for private hospitals to buy their own vaccines means nothing right now. The country is still dependent on the FDA to certify vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and home-grown vaccines developed in China, Russia, India and Brazil that have not undergone world-standard clinical trials.
Other than AstraZeneca, the only other pharmaceutical company to apply for registration was China’s Sinovac Biotech. Thailand appeared ready to start importing and deploying 2 million of its CoronaVac vaccines next month, but recent large-scale test results out of Brazil showed the vaccine was only 50.4% effective.
Prayut then hit the brakes on the Chinese virus plan, saying Thais would not be “guinea pigs” for vaccine testing.
To date, Thailand has secured only 63 million doses of vaccines, said ministry Permanent Secretary Kiattibhum Wongrajit. That’s only enough for less than half Thailand’s 66.5 million citizens, let alone its millions of foreign expats and migrant workers, as all the available vaccines require two doses.
A linchpin in Thailand’s plan was the deal with AstraZeneca to locally manufacture its vaccine at Siam Bioscience Group, a wholly owned unit of the Crown Property Bureau. Thailand could use montly allotments of the vaccines it produces, but most doses would be exported.
That plan, however, may be in jeopardy following harsh criticism from prominent pro-democracy campaigner Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who questioned the transparency and cost of the contract with AstraZeneca and the Siam Bioscience’s monopoly on the drug.
That criticism prompted the government this week to charge Thanathorn, leader of the Progressive Movement, with lese majeste, asserting that criticizing a Crown Property Bureau subsidiary was the same as defaming HM the King.
Unwilling to be pulled into Thai politics and be associated with the draconian lese majeste law, which has been condemned around the world, AstraZeneca executives were reportedly reconsidering the manufacturing deal.
A news conference scheduled for Friday to herald the vaccine’s approval in Thailand was canceled abruptly with no explantion after the lese majeste charges were announced against Thanathorn.