Credit: COVAX Facility/ Gavi

Thailand to commit to COVAX following lagged Covid-19 vaccine procurement

The head of the National Vaccine Institute (NVI) jointly responsible for the vaccine procurement has conceded on the shortage of vaccines to keep up with an intensifying outbreak situation following the fast-spreading of the Delta variant_and offered an apology to the public

Dr. Nakorn Premsri, the NVI’s Director, has revealed at the press conference this week the status of Thailand in COVAX Facility that Thailand has not yet signed up for vaccine procurements under the scheme, which is a global joint initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its global vaccine alliances to create a global pooled procurement system for Covid-19 vaccines worldwide to ensure fair and equitable access among countries regardless of their wealth.

This includes Gavi, a public-private partnership of leading public health organisations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been working on boosting primary healthcare and immunity among the world’s citizens.

Under COVAX’s work strategies and operations, the mechanism called the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) has also been created specially and run by Gavi to support low and middle-income countries which may not be able to afford to pay for huge vaccine lots for their citizens. The mechanism will help them get the needed vaccines for free or at low prices.

Nevertheless, Dr. Nakorn said the country is still in COVAX, without further elaboration how. He also added that concerned authorities have contacted Gavi for possible collaboration on vaccine procurements under the scheme for next year’s vaccine target, set at around 120 million doses.

As checked by Bangkok Tribune, COVAX Facility’s lists of participation as available, dated December 15 last year and May 12 this year, show two major lists of participation. One is that of countries with “commitment agreements” or “self-financing participants” as they have signed these up to the Facility. The other is that of countries with “confirmations of intent to participate” as they have submitted just non-binding confirmations of intent to participate in the Facility. Thailand is not on the commitment agreements list, nor it is listed under the AMC eligible economies, 92 in total. It appeared on the list of “confirmations of intent to participate”.

I COVAX CA/COIP list, as of December 15, 2020. Credit: COVAX Facility/ Gavi

COVAX’s vaccines were first pursued as part of the country’s initial Covid-19 vaccine procurement plan with 20% of the overall target set, but the government later shifted the focus on locally manufactured AstraZeneca, of which 61 million doses were targeted. These are almost all of the vaccines wanted for this year; first set at 63 million doses in total before the number was adjusted to 100 million doses to cover 50 million citizens.

The COVAX participation plan has since been put down with explanations given by concerned authorities that the country’s income did not meet the criteria, the processes under the scheme were complicated, and its vaccine prices were relatively higher than those procured elsewhere. (Read: Thailand has yet to commit to WHO’s COVAX Facility to get cheap or free Covid-19 vaccines as it is classified as a “middle-income” country: Anutin)

In spite of the deal secured with AstraZeneca, the government is now struggling with insufficient vaccines for the citizens as AstraZeneca said it would deliver around five to six million doses a month or one-third of its monthly production capacity, which is only half of the amount required by the government in order to meet the vaccination target this year. The rest would go for exports, the company said. The agreements made with the company is confidential and the public is not told about the deals made.

I As of July 18. Credit: CCSA

Dr. Nakorn has conceded that the amount of the vaccines procured is insufficient to deal with the situation, partly due to bureaucratic work procedures, which take time to proceed. This prompted the agency to not be able to procure the number of vaccines needed to cope with the situation. He publicly offered an apology to the public, the first senior official who has conceded and offered an apology.

“I have to apologise you all the people, for the fact that the institute has not been able to get the vaccines enough to keep up with the situation in spite of our all-out efforts.

“We have never experienced this before, it’s unprecedented and unexpected_I also mean the continuing mutation of the virus. This is something that is unforeseeable and it causes the virus to spread fast and severe, even more severe than the situation last year,” said Dr. Nakorn, while repeating his apology again in a soft-toned voice.

As updated by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), officials have managed to inoculate around 10.9 million doses for the people since its mass vaccination program launched on June 7. Together with doses inoculated to frontline medical workers since late February when the first batch of the vaccines arrived, there are around 15.08 million doses administered.

According to the Disease Control Department, AstraZeneca has delivered around 2.7 million doses, as of July 16. Altogether, it has delivered around 8.2 million doses to the government.

This has prompted concerned authorities to rush to procure other vaccines elsewhere; be they from Pfizer, China’s Sinovac, and others. The latest deal they have managed to settle is with Pfizer, which will deliver around 20 million doses in the fourth quarter.

Asked whether they will be able to procure the vaccines to meet the target this year, Dr. Nakorn said they are trying their best and expediting the work, and could not say at this point how many doses they will get.