Thailand seeks more COVID shots amid record surge in cases

Thailand sees record new cases in recent days blamed on the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant as the pace of immunisation remains slow.

Thailand has been credited for its swift containment of earlier outbreaks, but the slow pace of its immunisation drive has caused some jitters, with only 712,610 doses administered so far, mostly only the first shot [Mladen Antonov/AFP]

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has announced plans to secure 35 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year, on top of existing orders of nearly 65 million doses, as the country deals with a record surge in infections.

Health authorities on Wednesday announced 1,458 new coronavirus cases, and two more deaths, a figure lower than Sunday’s record high of 1,767 infections.

The latest figures take Thailand’s total to 46,643 cases and 110 deaths. A third of the total infections have come this month alone.

“Many new cases are people who were in contact with previously confirmed cases and this raises the number of infections among family members and the local community,” said Dr Apisamai Srirangson, spokeswoman for the country’s COVID-19 response.

The latest infections include the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom and blamed in many countries for causing big jumps in cases.

As the country of almost 70 million people grapples with the new wave of the pandemic, Prayuth’s government has been widely criticised for making late and inadequate efforts to secure vaccine supplies, which so far include delivery of only about two million doses of AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinovac vaccines.

As of Monday, just below 1 percent of Thailand’s population had received at least one vaccine dose.

Prayuth, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, said his government is trying to secure 35 million more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from two or three firms this year.

Of the new shots sought, the prime minister said the private sector through the Chamber of Commerce will help source some 10 to 15 million doses.

“I have ordered that we distribute and administer all the vaccines that we can find by December,” he added.

Prayuth did not name the brands or specify whether the 35 million included the five million to 10 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that he announced were being sought on Tuesday.

The government originally planned to secure 63 million doses this year, most of which would be the AstraZeneca vaccine, with local production slated to begin in June.

Like most of its neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, Thailand relied on the vaccine of China’s Sinovac Biotech for its initial round of inoculations of health workers.

It has so far received two million doses of the Chinese vaccine, named CoronaVac, and 117,000 imported doses of the AstraZeneca shot.

A further 1.5 million doses of CoronaVac are on order, a third of those to arrive on Saturday and the rest next month.

On Tuesday, the prime minister defended his government’s pandemic response following criticism that he had been too slow in ordering the procurement of available vaccines.

“It’s not that we acted too late or too little,” Prayuth said.

“Everything depends on the situation at a given time. We did not want to subject people to risks when the vaccine was first produced. Several countries opted to do the same.”

Now, many countries have found themselves competing for the limited supply of the vaccines, as first world countries are accused of hoarding millions of doses for their own population.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies