BANGKOK: Thailand is considering imposing limits on exports of locally manufactured AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to fight its own crisis, an official said on Wednesday (Jul 14), a move likely to impact neighbours and stir concerns of vaccine protectionism.
Any attempt to regulate exports could further slow vaccine rollout to Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, which are also battling spikes in infections and supply disruptions caused by earlier export curbs imposed by India.
The move also marks a fresh setback to AstraZeneca, which had initial delays in regional production and delivery and hoped to put it back on track from this month and meet its supply commitments to the region.
Nakorn Premsri, a key member of the National Vaccine Committee, told reporters when asked about a plan to place a quota on vaccine exports that the committee had "agreed in principle" on such a draft order.
"Right now, the order has not been issued yet," Nakorn said, adding that various agencies will need to review it and consider its impacts.
He did not address at what levels export quotas might be set.
AstraZeneca Thailand said in late June that its partner Siam Bioscience, owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, will produce 180 million doses this year, just over a third for Thailand and two thirds for elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
"Right now we will talk with the vaccine manufacturer so they can deliver the vaccine to Thailand in a suitable manner that matches the outbreak situation in the country," Nakorn told reporters.
Representatives for AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a Reuters request to comment on Nakorn's statements.
AstraZeneca delivered 6 million doses, as promised, to Thailand in June when the country's mass vaccine rollout started. A Thai official last month said a similar volume would be delivered in July, short of the previously announced 10 million monthly doses.
READ: People jabbed with Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to get AstraZeneca as second dose: Thailand health ministry
Thailand has been producing the AstraZeneca vaccine since June and is slated to export it to several other countries in Southeast Asia, as well as Taiwan. The Philippines and Malaysia are among countries that have experienced delivery delays.
The country is suffering its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, with hundreds of deaths in recent weeks and more than 8,000 new cases reported on many days this month - and only about 5per cent of its more than 66 million population fully vaccinated.
Thailand's government has so far used the AstraZeneca's viral vector vaccine and Sinovac inactivated virus vaccine.
The government is also revising its vaccine acquisition plan and announced on Wednesday it will more than double the targeted number of doses to 120 million, among those viral vector and mRNA types. It did not mention inactivated virus vaccines.
It had earlier said it would order 28 million more doses of the Sinovac vaccine, but it this week announced a plan to administer AstraZeneca shots as a second dose to those of the Chinese vaccine, to better protect against variants of concern.