Thailand starts long-awaited COVID vaccination campaign

Thailand rolls out locally produced AstraZeneca jabs as it begins a much-anticipated mass inoculation campaign.

A woman poses with a sign that reads: 'First dose, easy,' after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine at the Narathiwat Hospital [Madaree Tohlala/ AFP]

Health authorities in Thailand have kicked off a long-awaited mass vaccination campaign, with the aim of administering 6 million doses of locally-made Oxford-AstraZeneca and imported Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines this month.

The campaign’s launch on Monday came as Thailand battles its third and worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The government will ensure that everyone is vaccinated,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in televised comments after he visited an inoculation centre in Bangkok.

He said vaccinations will begin in every province on Monday and that vaccines would be allocated according to the infection rate in each area.

The government plans to vaccinate 70 percent of Thailand’s population of more than 66 million people by the end of the year. So far, 2.8 million people deemed most vulnerable, including front-line health and transport workers, have received a first dose.

But the government has come under fire from opposition politicians who accuse it of complacency and an over-reliance on the locally-made Oxford-AstraZeneca doses.

People wait for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the Narathiwat Hospital [Madaree Tohlala/ AFP]

Thailand had escaped the worst of the pandemic as it hit other countries hard last year but is now grappling with its deadliest outbreak. The third wave has accounted for more than 80 percent of total infections so far. Officials reported 2,419 new COVID-19 cases and 33 deaths on Monday, bringing the total to 179,886 and 1,269 fatalities.

The stadium vaccination centre that Prayuth visited can provide 1,500 jabs a day, said Mongkon Wanitphakdeedecha, director of Vichaivej International Hospital, who was supervising the operation. He said they have three days’ supply on hand, but he did not know if other sites had enough for more than one day.

The government has been scrambling to source more vaccines as concerns arose about the production capacity of royal-owned Siam Bioscience, the Thai company making the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine locally, after the Philippines said its order had been reduced and delayed.

The Thai government received 1.8 million locally produced Oxford-AstraZeneca shots on Friday and has sourced another 200,000 doses from South Korea, a health ministry source told the Reuters news agency.

Thailand will receive an additional 3.24 million doses from AstraZeneca after mid-June, the health ministry said in a statement, but did not specify how much would be locally made.

China meanwhile has supplied 6.5 million doses of Sinovac to Thailand, including 500,000 doses that arrived on Saturday.

Thailand also expects to sign a contract this week for 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Source: News Agencies