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Thailand’s Covid-19 Vaccination Drive Delayed as Production Delays Prompt EU Export-Ban Threat

AstraZeneca's manufacturing facility at Snackviken in Sodertalje, Sweden.
AstraZeneca's manufacturing facility at Snackviken in Sodertalje, Sweden.

Thailand’s already lagging coronavirus-vaccination campaign suffered another delay Thursday as a British-Swedish pharmaceutical developer AstraZeneca continued to feud with the European amid critical production setbacks.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said this afternoon that “shipment delays” may force the postponement of Thailand’s vaccination drive, which was planned for Feb. 14. However, Anutin said he was confident it would begin at some point next month.

The writing had been on the wall since early this week that Thailand’s first 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca drug would be delayed as a fight between the EU and the drugmaker exploded across world headlines, with the Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, on Tuesday threatening to ban exports of its vaccines outside of Europe due to AstraZeneca’s failure to deliver promised numbers of doses to the continent.

Kyriakides accused the firm of exporting vaccine to the U.K. and other nations even as it was unable to meet its EU commitments.

The 50,000 AstraZeneca doses Thailand was set to receive next week are being manufactured at the company’s Italian factory, which has suffered major production delays.

EU and AstraZeneca officials met Wednesday, but failed to end the crisis with as Brussels again blasting the company’s “continued lack of clarity” on its delivery schedule and demanded a clear plan.

While both sides called the emergency talks “constructive”, they did little to resolve the dispute over whether the company should deliver tens of millions more doses to the EU than AstraZeneca feels it is obligated to in this first quarter of the year.

The European Commission on Wednesday demanded AstraZeneca use production from its UK plants make up shortfalls in its EU deliveries. AstraZeneca contends its contracts only require the drugmaker to make its “best effort” to meet promised quotas.

EU officials said AstraZeneca now plans to deliver only a quarter of the 100 million doses first expected in the first quarter.

The company has blamed the shortfall on supply-chain problems and has insisted that – contrary to EU assertions – it has not diverted doses to other countries.

Thailand Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccination Schedule Plan

But whether due to those manufacturing problems in Italy or EU pressure, Thailand is going to pay the price, delaying perhaps by weeks the start of a vaccination problem already imperiled by the government’s heavy-handed crackdown of a pro-democracy activist who questioned AstraZeneca’s cozy relationship with the Crown Property Bureau’s Siam Bioscience Co.

AstraZeneca officials in Thailand reportedly confirmed to British media that the lese majeste charges filed against Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has not altered its plans to make the drug in Thailand after reports it had been reconsidering the arrangement out of fear of being dragged into Thai politics.

Siam Bioscience won the no-bid contract for exclusive rights to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine locally starting in May. Before then, the company was supposed to receive 50,000 doses from Italy to allow Thailand to begin vaccination front-line medical personnel, seniors and those with risky contacts to Covid-19 patients.

That plan, however, calls for inoculation of 19 million people, something the country will be unable to accomplish until at least the end of the summer based on its current vaccine-purchase commitments.