BANGKOK — A senior health official said the first batch of a coronavirus vaccine developed by a British pharmaceutical company and Oxford University will be available four months from now.
The vaccine, which has been approved by British regulatory authorities for emergency uses, is being produced by a Thai firm per a technology sharing agreement with AstraZeneca, Medical Sciences Department director Supakit Sirilak told reporters.
He estimated that the medication will be distributed to the public by May, though he hinted that it would take considerable time before a full-fledged vaccination campaign can take place.
“Even in countries where vaccination already began, they cannot take vaccination all at once,” Supakit said at the news conference Sunday. “It’s not a product that can be bought anywhere in the market.”
“What’s also important is there must be a system to ensure quality and safety. We will not buy a vaccine from any substandard factory or any vaccine that is not backed by Phase 3 experiment results.”
It is unclear whether the Thai Food and Drug Administration has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Thailand. The agency simply said on Dec. 30 that it was capable and willing to start a validation process for any vaccine, but made no reference to any particular brand. In late December, the Thai FDA already shot down a bid by a hospital in Bangkok to import vaccines made by U.S.-based Moderna, citing insufficient data needed for approval.
Supakit also did not mention how many doses will be available in May, but a representative of the firm that secured a manufacturing license from AstraZeneca said up to 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine can be made per month, once the production starts in earnest.
“The production capacity is 200 million doses per year, or 15 to 20 million doses per month,” Siam Bioscience Co., Ltd. director Songpon Deechongkit said.
Siam Bioscience began its first production in mid-December after securing a deal with AstraZeneca in October, Songpon said. However, the doses must be tested and formally approved by the Thai FDA before they can be shipped.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, developed in collaboration with Oxford University, was greenlit by a British regulatory body just days ago, on Dec. 30.
The vaccine is reported to be easier to store and distribute, as it can be kept at normal fridge temperature, unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech jab that has to be kept at the subzero temperature of -70C.
Supakit, the Medical Sciences Department director, said the health ministry is also ordering 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from a Chinese manufacturer, the first shipment of which is expected to arrive by February.
But unlike AstraZeneca’s doses, the vaccine made by China-based Sinovac has not yet won the coveted “Phase 3” status – a prerequisite for domestic approvals – raising questions of when the Chinese jab will actually be put to use.
“Thailand will only recognize a Phase 3 registration that has clear results,” National Vaccine Institute director Nakorn Premsri said at today’s news conference. “There are only three types of vaccines that are registered and recognized as such: the ones made by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.”
The health authorities are seemingly racing against time to obtain a vaccine for the coronavirus amid a renewed outbreak that is far more serious than the first wave witnessed in early 2020.
At least 290 new domestic infections were logged on Sunday, with several clusters of outbreak identified across Thailand.