The royally owned pharmaceutical company sitting at the heart of both Thailand’s coronavirus-vaccination program and a brewing political crisis on Monday shed more light its controversial deal to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine from Britain’s AstraZeneca Plc.
In a statement, Siam Bioscience Co., wholly owned subsidiary of the Crown Property Bureau, said efforts to secure manufacturing rights to the drug began in October with a letter of intent signed with the Siam Cement Group, AstraZeneca and the Public Health Ministry that demonstrated joint commitment to make this vaccine available in Southeast Asia.
A contract-manufacturing agreement between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience came next, which the company said signified “that Siam Bioscience met AstraZeneca’s high technical, operational and ethical standards”.
The company said that, through technology transfer from AstraZeneca, Siam Bioscience now has become part of AstraZeneca’s worldwide network of vaccine-manufacturing partners.
“Siam Bioscience is immensely proud to have been chosen as AstraZeneca’s as its technology transfer and manufacturing partner for the Covid-19 vaccine,” company Corporate Communications Director Nualphan Lamsan said in the statement.
Employees are “working tirelessly, competing against time, having decided to drastically alter its manufacturing plan in order to pour all available resources and effort into manufacturing the vaccine that will meet AstraZeneca’s standards as expeditiously as possible,” she added.
The statement offered no explanation of why a joint news conference with the health ministry, AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience was canceled without explanation Friday. Nor did the company address allegations that AstraZeneca is now reconsidering is manufacturing agreement with the royally backed firm after a prominent pro-democracy activist was slapped with draconian lese majeste charge for criticizing how Siam Bioscience was selected.
Thanathorn criticized the government for its slowness in procuring sufficient numbers of vaccine doses for the entire country and was not transparent about the contracts to purchase and locally manufacture its drug with palace-owned Siam Bioscience Group had been negotiated.
He alleged collusion in negotiating the no-bid contract, that no real consideration was given to vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., and that taxpayer money may have been wasted.
Siam Bioscience pointed out Monday that, per the policy of London’s Oxford University, which developed the vaccine in partnership with the Swedish pharmaceutical firm, the company is manufacturing the drug on a not-for-profit basis.
The firm pointed to its extensive experience in successful track record in manufacturing drugs using modified adenoviral vectors grown in mammalian cells, as the Covid-19 vaccine uses, along with coronavirus RT-PCR tests as reasons for its selection.
Using 600 million baht from the government and 100 million baht from Siam Cement, Siam Bioscience will buy 700 million in coronavirus vaccine doses from AstraZeneca. The first 50,000 doses are expected to arrive in February and will be given to healthcare and front-line workers beginning on Valentine’s Day.
The doses originally weren’t set to arrive until May.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Monday chaired a meeting to discuss Covid-19 vaccine management. The meeting was attended by the ministry’s executives and five working bodies. The ministry previously set up subcommittees to take on various aspects.
Today, the meeting followed up on vaccine management and distribution, after the FDA recently approved the emergency use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and produced abroad.
Initially, the recipients of the vaccine are required to install the new “Mor Prom” smartphone application to monitor side effects of the vaccine.
Anutin said there may be side effects, but the possibility is very low. He urged the people not to be too worried because there are officials specifically assigned to take care of them.
The government will provide full support to ensure that the vaccine distribution covers all Thai citizens in a timely manner and without any disparity, Anutin pledged.
Thailand has ordered 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine – enough for about half of the population – along with two million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotcech.