BANGKOK — The coronavirus vaccination program will not begin this Valentine’s Day as slated earlier, health minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced Friday.
Minister Anutin cited the vaccine supply dispute between AstraZeneca and the European Union as the reason for the new pushback. But the minister insisted that the first shipment of vaccines will still arrive within February, even as some of Thailand’s neighbors in Asia are already going forward with their inoculation.
“The delay is not from us,” Anutin said. “We will reach out to every source of production and ask them to send some of their stock to us before March. We’re trying to negotiate and doing everything we can. If there’s a problem, it’s beyond our control.”
Health officials previously told Khaosod English that the vaccination would officially begin on Feb. 14, but Anutin now said the first shot will not be administered until March, at the earliest.
The government is set to import 200,000 doses of vaccines jointly developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca and Oxford University from abroad to fill the gap before the locally made version of AstraZeneca vaccines will be available. It is unclear when that will happen; officials have mentioned either May or June.
Many uncertainties lie ahead in the country’s ambitious plan to inoculate at least more than half of its population within this year as government officials keep pushing back the target date for the vaccine rollout.
AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week. But the FDA will still have to inspect each batch of the incoming vaccines before they can be used in Thailand, potentially a cause for yet another delay.
“The vaccines are set to be available in March,” Anutin said. “When the vaccines arrive in Thailand, it must go through an inspection process.”
The first group of people to be inoculated will be frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable populations such as those living with diabetes, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the provinces hardest hit by the virus, officials said.
Some other nations in the Asian region, most notably Indonesia and India, have already started their bid to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19, prompting many government critics to question why Thailand is lagging behind.