BANGKOK — Thailand will receive its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine from China by the end of next month, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said as the country logged a new virus death and the highest-ever spike in case number on Monday.
The country reported record-breaking 745 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, though most of the patients were reportedly found during active case-finding operations in Samut Sakhon. PM Prayut also told reporters that the government has secured 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech.
Public health workers like doctors and nurses will be prioritized in the first round of vaccination, Prayut said, while the general public will have to wait until May for vaccines developed by British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
“I have laid out plans for vaccine procurement,” Prayut said at Government House on Monday morning. “I believe they will arrive within one to two months.”
Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Medical Sciences Department, said the first 200,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines will be shipped to Thailand by the end of February. The remaining 800,000 shots will be delivered in March, and the rest, or 1 million, in April.
“There’s only a few vaccines available out there,” Supakit said “We will not buy vaccines from substandard producers or vaccines that have not passed Phase 3 trial.”
“Private firms who wish to import the vaccines to Thailand must have them registered with the Food and Drug Administration,” he went on. “This is to ensure that Thais will have quick and safe access to vaccines.”
The vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech was just approved for general public use by the Chinese government on the New Year’s Eve. The state-owned company said the vaccine is 79.34 percent effective, citing preliminary results from Phase 3 clinical trials – compared to AstraZeneca’s reported efficacy of 70 percent.
The government is aiming to vaccinate at least half of its population with the vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, a task that would require at least 70 million doses, Supakit said. He did not specify the time frame.
Supakit also said the vaccines will be available for free for Thai citizens. They will be produced by Siam Bioscience – a Thai firm wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau – under a technology sharing deal that was struck in November. The formal signing ceremony was attended by representatives from the palace.
Both vaccines, from Sinovac and AstraZeneca, are yet to be approved by the Thai Food and Drug Administration, though the regulatory body said it is ready to validate any vaccines within 30 days.
“The process usually takes 6 months, but we have mobilized our efforts to make it possible,” FDA public affairs director Lertchai Lertvut said. “Once the vaccines arrive in Thailand, we can start the process right away. This applies to every vaccine, no matter who imported it.”
The hope for vaccines appears more desperate each day as health officials continue to log an ever larger number of coronavirus infections across the country.
About 500 of the new infections reported today were migrant workers, coronavirus response center spokesman Taweesin said. A new fatality is also reported, raising the total virus death toll to 65.
The spokesman said the rate of infection remains high due to overcrowded lodgings.
“This isn’t beyond our expectation,” Taweesin said. “We’re conducting investigation among the foreign workers who’re residing at crowded dormitories and factories. We’re not letting them out because there’s a lot of them. Therefore, we have to split testing into phases. That’s why we saw that figure.”
At least 400 families of migrant workers from Myanmar are being quarantined in their dormitories close to a shrimp market, according to civil rights groups.
“We will certainly find more as we continue the search,” Taweesin said. “The numbers will be high at first, but it will gradually drop. I ask those who consider themselves at risk to come in and take a test.”