PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has posed a legal threat against any persons or media members who have distorted or falsified facts regarding the government’s Covid-19 vaccine planning and preparedness, whereas concerned authorities have lined up to subside the accusation with detailed explanations during the press conference today
PM Prayut at the weekly press briefing today has said of the fresh accusation regarding the government’s Covid-19 vaccine planning and preparedness made by opposition Progressive Movement group’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, saying the facts were distorted and not factual.
So, he would instruct concerned authorities to take legal action against any persons or media members who made such the accusation publicly online or in the press.
“Please be mindful when dealing with the issue. I’m not threatening you or anything, but I have to protect public confidence in the government. Otherwise, the government’s work would be attacked without anyone being responsible for what they said,” said the PM.
Mr. Thanathorn was on Facebook Live yesterday, sharing his views and observations on the current planning and preparedness of Covid-19 vaccines by the government.
He claimed that the vaccine acquisition has apparently been slow or delayed, thus compromising the utmost benefits of the Thai majorities to receive the vaccines early. Second, he questioned on a few names of companies endorsed to acquire and deliver the vaccines to the government, especially royally linked Siam Bioscience, as well as its likely conflict of interest with the government’s funding worth 600 million baht.
The opposition group’s leader also asked whether the government’s choice made on Siam Bioscience would be for “political gains”.
As his observations were reported in some media outlets, the Public Health Ministry urgently held a press conference today, with senior public health officials lining up to clarify the points to people.
According to Dr. Supakij Sirilak, Director-General of the Medical Sciences Department, which co-supervises the Covid-19 vaccine acquisition with other agencies, the Covid-19 vaccine acquisition has been planned since the early development of the vaccines worldwide and concerned authorities keep studying them along, so the planning and acquisition of the vaccines has not been slow or delayed as accused.
The officials concerned have been seeking the vaccines from various sources including 20% from the pool system of COVAX facility (jointly run by the World Health Organisation and leading vaccine developers to pool supplies to ensure equality of access especially for poor countries), another 20% from British-Swedish AstraZeneca (20%), and another 10% from other possible sources, the director general said.
They have also been supporting in-house production of Covid-19 vaccines to ensure its sufficiency for the citizens, he added.
The National Vaccine Institute’s Director, Dr. Nakhon Premsri, in addition, said specifically of the vaccine development and production by Siam Bioscience.
He cited a special circumstance, under which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed in a rush manner to keep up with the virus and its impacts, and Thailand’s wish to get the vaccines with technology transfer for its long-term goals of self-reliance.
Following the connection that one giant cement production company has with Oxford University through their work collaboration, AstraZeneca was invited to explore the possibility to work here with a local company, which is compatible.
As the vaccine development and production technology needs to be transferred, so such a company needs to be capable enough to take the company’s technology. It’s also of the company’s interest to expand its production capacity worldwide, with a large production of 200 million doses a year, Dr. Nakhon added.
AstraZeneca therefore chose Siam Bioscience, the NVI’s director said, adding the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) has no enough capacity as required.
Siam Bioscience itself at first was not yet capable to receive technology from the company. The government had to invest around 600 million baht to help boost its capacity, with an additional budget by the cement company, worth around 100 million baht.
Siam Bioscience, he added, had to stop its current work of producing drugs for patients with kidney failure in order to boost its capacity.
As AstraZeneca has transferred the technology and techniques to produce its vaccine to Thailand, Siam Bioscience would then produce the vaccine out of the technology learned from the company as a hired manufacturer and AstraZeneca would sell the vaccine doses to Thailand at a production cost. So, there are no profits, nor losses, nor benefits hidden from the production, he said.
“We work as Thailand’s team,” said Dr. Nakhon of the efforts contributed by various parties, adding it’s also about the principle of “our loss is our gain”, guided by the late King Rama 9, who had laid a foundation for Siam Bioscience.
“With some investment, we can cut our reliance on drug imports later,” said Dr. Nakhon.
Dr. Opas Karnkawinphong, Director General of the Department of Disease Control said of time spent to find Covid-19 vaccines for the people that the government needs to be prudent, and the vaccines must be safe.
The officials concerned have been in negotiation with other pharmaceutical companies too, not just AstraZeneca, but they all must prove that their vaccines are safe before being approved here.
So far, only two companies have proposed their vaccines for registration here (AstraZeneca and Sinovac).
Thailand has strucken a deal with AstraZeneca in late November last year with the first lot to be delivered at 26 million doses starting from June onwards.
Sinovac’s vaccine later emerged, as the government announced that it had also ordered the vaccine from it, around two million doses, to be delivered in late February until April in separate lots, following the new round of Covid outbreaks in late December.
Such the developments prompted Mr. Thanathorn to make his observation on the vaccine planning by the government as being sluggish. He himself has been accused back by government figures including Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul as being politicising the issue.