BANGKOK — Thailand’s long awaited vaccination program against COVID-19 will officially start on Valentine’s Day, a senior health official said Monday, as the country reported two new deaths from the coronavirus.
The first group to be inoculated with vaccines jointly developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca and Oxford University will include frontline health workers like doctors and nurses – as well as certain government leaders, for promotional purposes.
“Feb. 14 is the planned date,” Tawee Chotpitayasunondh, an expert at the National Communicable Disease Committee, said by phone. “There are still a lot of factors to be considered, but we want to administer the vaccines as soon as they arrive.”
Thailand has ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week.
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Although most of the doses will be produced domestically by Siam BioScience, a company wholly owned by the palace, the government is set to import 200,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from abroad to fill the gap before local production could be rolled out in May.
The first shipment of 50,000 doses is expected to arrive next month, health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Wednesday. The rest of the shipment is set to arrive in March and April, he added.
Tawee also hinted that some of the jabs will be reserved for certain senior government officials to raise public confidence in the vaccine, though he refused to name names.
“There will be a promotional campaign,” Tawee said. “But healthcare workers will certainly be prioritized.”
It remains unclear how the first group will be selected for inoculation. Government officials previously said “vulnerable groups” in five provinces of Samut Sakhon, Chonburi, Trat, Rayong, and Chanthaburi would be given a priority due to the severity of the local outbreak.
Apart from AstraZeneca vaccines, the government also placed order on two million doses of vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac.
Health officials had said earlier this month that the first 200,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines will be shipped to Thailand by the end of February – but the Thai FDA has yet to grant an approval for its use, despite the ever narrower timeframe.
Thailand reported two new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, along with 187 new cases of infection.
The country’s 74th victim to die from the virus was identified as a 61-year-old British citizen who fell ill whilst staying at a quarantine facility. The 75th victim was a 56-year-old woman who reportedly contracted the virus from her husband, who worked at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon province, pandemic response center spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan said in a news conference.
The country’s total tally of coronavirus infections now stands at 13,687.