3.5 million more doses of China's Sinovac vaccine are set to have arrived this month (File photo). Credit: Public Health Ministry

Thai PM seeks more Covid-19 vaccines to cover as many citizens as possible against uncertainty

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has shifted the directive over Covid-19 vaccine administration shortly after the launch of the mass vaccination program early this month after consulting with medical and public health experts, who recommended that as many citizens as possible are covered by the first dose of the vaccines the soonest

PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha revealed his new directive over the vaccine administration against Covid-19 on Friday, saying the government would try to seek more of the vaccines to be added to what previously planned.

Last month, the government had adjusted the country’s Covid-19 vaccination plan by increasing the doses it would seek from 65 to 100 million to be able to cover 50 million people or 70% of the population. The Prime Minister on Friday revised the number again by vowing to seek more of those; up to 150 million doses or more if possible.

The premier reasoned that the situation kept changing as the virus keeps mutating, thus raising uncertainty for countries to deal with additionally. So, Thailand needed to prepare itself to deal with such uncertainty as well by having more vaccines to cover its citizens, who would need the third dose if the virus mutates.

This is in addition to possible delays of the vaccine deliveries following high demands from several countries at once.

“Worldwide, it’s not clear yet whether herd immunity would occur following mass vaccination or if it does occur, we still have no idea when exactly it does. We still have no idea either for how long it would protect people, and whether they need the third dose if the virus mutates,” said PM Prayut in his FB post, while adding there are also possible delays of the vaccine deliveries that need to be taken into account in the country’s vaccine administration planning.

So, he has instructed concerned authorities to seek more deals with vaccine producers including new players, aside from seven companies the government has negotiated with. The acquired vaccines would then be administered to the people as many as possible, starting this July, he said.

The PM said he has consulted with the medical and public health experts and they recommended that the first dose be administered to as many citizens as possible as it is proved to be effective to help reduce severe cases and deaths. He PM expected that by then up to half of the population could be covered by the Covid-19 vaccine’s first dose.

Earlier, around 16 million people of two target groups are expected to have received the vaccines from June onward under the government’s mass vaccination program launched early this month via a new registration application, Mor Prom. They are people aged 60 years and over and those with seven chronic diseases. The rest of the population would receive the vaccines some months later, according to the government’s plan.

After the launch of the program, some noted medical experts including Prof. Dr. Yong Poovorawan, Head of the Center of Excellence in Clinical Virology at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, stepped out to recommend that the first dose of the vaccines should rather be given to as many people as possible following the ongoing outbreaks, which keep exploding in cramped and crowded settings like the city of Bangkok.

This is to principally prevent its transmissions. Under normal circumstances, the vaccine administration can be set for certain target groups to help boost their immunities against the virus, but the outbreaks now are widespread and the country needs to slow down the transmissions as its priority, he said.

The target group-based vaccination plan, he added, has turned out to be slow and would unlikely be able to help keep up with the situation. So far, only 1.6 million people have registered for the vaccination via Mor Prom, and around 1.8 million people from the first target group of medical staff and authorities working on the front line have been inoculated with Covid-19 vaccines since late February when the first batch of vaccines from China’s Sinovac was delivered.

PM Prayut has not elaborated further on how the mass vaccination plan would be adjusted to embrace his new directive.

Update: The Prime Minister on Tuesday (May 11) has announced that the Covid-19 vaccine administration is a national agenda, and he will supervise the progress of it closely by himself as he wishes to see as many citizens as possible inoculated with the vaccines.

Read: Mass Covid-19 vaccination program kicked off with “Mor Prom” app introduced

Covid-19 vaccines will be tested at the Medical Sciences Department for their qualities before being administered to the public. Credit: Public Health Ministry

Vaccine safety

Noted medical experts have lined up to assure that Covid-19 vaccines are relatively safe so far, following several studies although some side effects have been reported, including blood clots.

Dr. Tawee Chotipittayasunon, and an honorary member of the National Communicable Diseases Committee, for instance, pointed that all the vaccines in the market can help reduce severe illnesses and deaths almost 100% although efficacy on other criteria, including virus transmission prevention, is still varied, depending on the settings of the studies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just reported its evidence assessment on China’s Sinovac, saying the vaccine is efficacious in preventing COVID-19 in adults under 60.

“We are very confident that 2 doses of CoronaVac are efficacious in preventing PCR confirmed COVID19 in adults (18-59 years),

“We are moderately confident that 2 doses of CoronaVac are efficacious in preventing PCR confirmed COVID-19 in older adults (≥60 years),” the WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunization (SAGE) noted in its assessment posted on the WHO website.

However, it noted that some quality data on the risk of serious adverse effects is lacking, Reuters reported.

The assessment is based on evidence from phase 3 clinical trials in China, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and Chile. A separate group of WHO technical experts were also reviewing Sinovac’s shot for possible WHO emergency use listing, the news agency reported. This, it said, would not only pave the way for its use in the global COVAX vaccine sharing platform, but also provide a crucial international endorsement for a vaccine developed in China.

So far, the virus mutation is of concern among the medical experts as Thailand has detected the Indian variant for the first time today in a woman and one of her children after they had travelled back from Pakistan via Dubai on April 24. They are put under state quarantine now.

The B.1.617.1 variant was recorded for the first time in India in October before spreading to other countries, including Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In Southeast Asia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have also detected the same variant, prompting the border patrol authorities to be on alert on illegal entry, which was once the source of the second wave of the outbreaks last December. Since January, over 15,000 people sneaked into Thailand illegally, according to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

The CCSA’s Assistant spokeswoman, Dr. Apisamai Srirangson said authorities were worried by the arrival of this version of the virus. Thailand has barred foreign arrivals from India since the beginning of this month and the Thai embassy in India has ceased issuing certificates of entry (COE) to any non-Thai nationals.

The Foreign Ministry and Department of Disease Control were holding discussions about halting foreign arrivals from other countries in addition, she said.

The BMA is trying to reach residents in communities to provide them with Covid-19 vaccines and conduct active case finding as quickly as possible. Credit: BMA

Bangkok’s plans against Covid

Being a hotspot of the third wave of the outbreaks, Bangkok, meanwhile, has been adjusting its disease control plan to deal with the situation, which now sees the virus spreading to all of its 51 districts today.

Since after Songkran, when people had returned to the city, new clusters in communities keep emerging in the capital. Up until today, Bangkok has stood on top of the rank of daily infection cases in this third wave, having cumulative cases reported almost half of the overall cases or 19,574 out of 56,142.

From some few clusters in Klong Toey, the virus has spread to other communities, which are crowded and cramped. There are around 2,000 communities in Bangkok, and 15 of these have reportedly been severely infected by the virus, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).

The administration office has planned to conduct active case finding up to 10,000 cases a day as its key strategy to find infected cases and separate them from their communities. Vaccination is another strategy to go in line with the active case finding. For instance, up to 3,000 vaccinations, a day have been planned for Klong Toey residents to help cover up to 70% of its residents, or around 50,000, according to the BMA.

The rise of new cases has put pressure on medical resources, prompting the BMA and the Public Health Ministry to jointly work on the expansion of field hospitals for patients in the “yellow” list, or those showing symptoms, in an attempt to ease pressure on hospitals.

The largest hospital of such has been established in Muang Thong Thani’s exhibition hall, which could facilitate up to 5,000 beds if needed, and the patients with mild symptoms will be transferred to it instead of hospitals, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.