Thailand to Get First Shipment of COVID-19 Vaccines This Week

BenarNews staff
Bangkok and Manila
2021-02-22
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Thailand to Get First Shipment of COVID-19 Vaccines This Week Airport personnel prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine rollout simulation at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Feb. 9, 2021.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Thailand will receive its first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine – 200,000 doses of Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech’s shots – on Wednesday and soon start inoculating Thais against the virus, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha announced Monday.

Meanwhile, the Philippines green-lighted the Sinovac vaccine for emergency use, although the government noted that the drug might not be suitable for jabs given to health-care workers due to its low efficacy rate.

“With regard to the vaccine, it is confirmed that it will arrive on Feb. 24 and we want two to three days to prepare and deliver shots whenever we can,” the Thai PM told the media after a meeting on vaccine preparedness.

“I’m ready to take a shot, too,” said the Thai PM, who along with his cabinet survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Saturday over his government’s handling of vaccine strategies and other policies related to the year-old pandemic.

The first 200,000 doses of an order of two million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine are scheduled to arrive from Beijing on a Thai Airways flight on Wednesday, according to the Public Health Ministry.

The remaining doses are expected to arrive in April, said Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the Sinovac vaccine, according to the agency’s director who added that the approval could be completed by the time it arrives.

The first batch of vaccines will be given to public health personnel and people between 18 to 59 years of age who are considered to be high risk, the health ministry said.

Thailand has so far ordered a total 63 million doses of vaccines from Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Sinovac, which are enough to cover about 63 percent of the targeted population of 50 million who will be vaccinated.

The arrival of the vaccine is much anticipated in Thailand, where tourism revenue - which was close to 2 trillion baht (U.S. $67 billion) in 2019 - took a huge hit last year because of the outbreak of COVID-19.

Thailand lost 1.5 trillion baht (U.S. $50 billion) in tourism revenue in 2020 because of travel restrictions, a member of the Move Forward Party told parliament during last week’s no-confidence debate against Prayuth and his nine cabinet ministers.

Prayuth and his cabinet survived the debate with a majority of lawmakers voting in their favor.

Sinovac efficacy in doubt

In the Philippines, Sinovac’s vaccine was the third one to be granted emergency-use authorization, after vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and the U.S.-German partnership of Pfizer-BioNTech.

“We have finished the last hurdle so that Sinovac can be used by our citizens. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, has approved the emergency use authorization of Sinovac, and the Chinese government needs just three days from the approval to ship Sinovac [vaccines] here,” Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, said in an online press briefing.

“This is very good news on the first working day of the week. Finally, vaccines are expected to arrive.”

The government earlier said that Sinovac had promised an initial batch of 600,000 doses.

However, the Chinese vaccines would likely not be given to frontline health workers or to the elderly because of its low efficacy rate based on clinical trials in Brazil, said Dr. Eric Domingo, head of the country’s FDA.

“The use of Sinovac vaccines on healthcare workers is not recommended as it has an efficacy of 50.4 percent in this group … the recommendation of our experts is that this is not the best vaccine for them,” Domingo said in a separate press briefing on Monday.

“What they saw in Brazil is that when it was given to health workers working in hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, the vaccine only had an efficacy rate of 50.4 [percent]. This is better than nothing, but experts recommend that it is not the best vaccine for health workers.”

Roque however said that Sinovac’s vaccine was not a “low quality” one.

“It is better than no protection. What we are getting rid of is serious sickness and death. Economic frontliners in industries, and troops, may be prioritized. If it cannot be given to senior citizens and frontliners, many critical economic frontliners can receive it,” he said.

“It is accepted by WHO [World Health Organization] standards. Meaning, [there is a] 50 percent chance you cannot get sick and it is100 percent not deadly.”

A virus expert with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand said people need not worry about being receiving a jab of the Sinovac vaccine.

“The vaccines made from inactive germs like those of Sinovac and Sinopharm adopted the same processes as the vaccines for rabies, polio or hepatitis A, so you can have a peace of mind about side effects,” Dr. Yong Poovorawan, a doctor at Chulalongkorn University, said on his Facebook page on Monday.

“For those who fear possible side effect of Sinovac vaccine, just don’t worry.”

Pfizer-BioNTech was expected to ship 117,000 doses of its vaccine by mid-February to the Philippines, but their arrival has been delayed. The Philippines had committed to procure 17 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, most of which are expected to arrive in May.

The Philippines trails only Indonesia in Southeast Asia for cases of COVID-19. The country recorded 2,288 new coronavirus infections on Monday, taking the cumulative caseload to 563,456, the health department said. With six deaths, the total virus-related death toll rose to 12,094, the department said.

Last week, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recommended further easing coronavirus quarantine rules by March.

Lockdowns have been gradually eased and modified since March 2020. However, tighter restrictions remain in force in places that are still under a general community quarantine.

“Cases may indeed spike, but it is also true that we are ready [to ease restrictions]. We are weighing that against the number of those who are starving because many sectors of the economy remain closed,” Roque said.

Malaysia poised for vaccination drive

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Malaysia on Sunday received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech. After the 312,390 vaccine doses arrived, Malaysia moved up its date for launching its coronavirus inoculation campaign to Wednesday, Feb. 24, from Feb. 26.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will be the first person in the country to receive a vaccine shot. Malaysia will vaccinate frontline workers in the first phase of inoculations that is expected to run through April.

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet, in Bangkok, and Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem, in Manila and Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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