BANGKOK — Samut Sakhon, Bangkok, and Pathum Thani are among the first provinces to begin vaccinating its health workers and vulnerable populations against COVID-19 by next month, officials said Thursday.
The first shipment of 200,000 doses of vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday amid an elaborate welcoming ceremony presided over by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Chinese ambassador. The pandemic response center said the vaccines will go straight to the provinces hardest hit by the outbreak as soon as they pass quality inspections.
“Health workers, including the Aor Sor Mor village health volunteers, will get the vaccines first,” the center’s spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said.
“Each province will also allocate vaccines to officials who are close to the patients such as defense or interior officials who oversee quarantine facilities, and airport officials who screen incoming passengers. Vulnerable populations, especially those who have underlying diseases, will also be prioritized.”
According to the health ministry, a total of 169,000 doses will be distributed to Samut Sakhon, western districts of Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Tak’s Mae Sot district, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Songkhram, and Ratchaburi, where they will be used to inoculate health workers and vulnerable populations.
Another 14,700 doses will be sent to the four provinces popular among foreign travelers, which include Chonburi, Phuket, Surat Thani’s Samui Island, and Chiang Mai, in a bid to reopen the country for tourism. The remaining 16,300 doses will be put in a reserve stockpile.
Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said at a news conference that the government will not charge any fee for the vaccine.
“The vaccines are for every Thai citizen and everyone residing in Thailand,” Anutin said. “If anyone claims that the vaccines have to be paid for, they will be prosecuted without exception.”
A Secretive Delivery
Today’s daily briefing by the government’s pandemic center made no mention of the 117,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which also arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the same day as their Chinese counterparts.
In a handout photo released by AstraZeneca, only a handful of company’s representatives and health officials were present at their photo op that marks the batch’s arrival on Wednesday’s afternoon – a stark contrast to the fanfare and pomp afforded to the Sinovac shipment, which featured luminaries like PM Prayut, Anutin, and acting Chinese ambassador Yang Xin.
The British pharmaceutical told Khaosod English that it has no plans to hold a welcome ceremony, since the vaccines are currently being inspected by health authorities.
“There will be no ceremonies,” AstraZeneca’s spokesperson for Thailand said. “The vaccines arrived in Thailand Wednesday’s afternoon and were transferred directly to a warehouse. They will be inspected by health authorities and will be issued a lot release certificate.”
AstraZeneca vaccines were previously slated to arrive in Thailand on Valentine’s Day, but it was delayed following the vaccine supply dispute between the company and the European Union, according to Anutin.
Speaking to reporters today, Anutin credited health officials for negotiating with the British company to secure the doses for Thailand, though he was evasive when asked where the first 117,000 doses originated from.
However, photos circulated online show that the shipment flew from Seoul’s Incheon Airport, where AstraZeneca has a production plant.
“That’s not the point,” Anutin said. “Health officials made every effort to negotiate for the imported doses. This will clear out accusations that we have procured the vaccines slowly and there is no backup plan.”
The arrival of AstraZeneca doses was also unexpected. When health minister Anutin announced last week that the first shipment of vaccines would land in Thailand on Feb. 24, he said it would only consist of the jabs made by Sinovac.
He only revealed that the shipment would also contain AstraZeneca’s vaccine less than 24 hours before the expected delivery. Anutin said he kept it secret because he “didn’t want to cause further drama.”
The 117,000 doses from AstraZeneca were meant to “fill in the gap” of Thailand’s vaccine supply chain before a local manufacturer can start the vaccine production per a technology agreement with the British firm.
Up to 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca-developed vaccine will be produced domestically by Siam Bioscience, a company wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, the government said. Production is said to start in June.