Thailand reports record new COVID-19 cases for second day, apologises for slow vaccine roll-out
BANGKOK: Thailand on Thursday (Jul 22) reported 13,655 new COVID-19 cases, a daily record for a second consecutive day and bringing the country's total accumulated cases to 453,132.
The COVID-19 task force also reported 87 additional deaths, bringing total fatalities to 3,697.
Thailand is battling a coronavirus surge that is pushing new cases and deaths to record highs nearly every day.
On Wednesday, the head of the National Vaccine Institute apologised for the country's slow roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines and said it would join the United Nations-backed COVAX programme to receive supplies from a pool of donated vaccines next year.
"I apologise to the people that the National Vaccine Institute has not managed to procure a sufficient amount of vaccines appropriate for the situation, although we have tried our best," Nakorn Premsri said at a news conference.
"The mutations (of the virus) were something that could not be predicted, which have caused a more rapid spread than last year. The vaccine procurement effort did not match the current situation."
He said Thailand is in the process of joining COVAX, and that he expected the country would be able to receive vaccines from the initiative by the first quarter of 2022.
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not joined COVAX. The government said in February that since Thailand is categorised as a middle-income country, it would not get free or cheap vaccines from the programme.
It claimed it would have to pay high prices in advance without knowing which vaccines it would get and when it would get them.
"Buying vaccines directly from the manufacturers is an appropriate choice ... as it's more flexible," government spokesperson Anucha Buraphachaisri said at the time.
That explanation was later criticised when the government urgently imported the Sinovac vaccine at a high price.
Thailand planned to administer 100 million jabs this year and has reserved 105.5 million doses from several companies.
Of those, 61 million doses were to be AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Siam Bioscience - a company owned by Thailand's king - as well as 19.5 million doses from Sinovac, 20 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and 5 million doses from Johnson & Johnson.
Last week, however, new doubts were cast on the plan when it was revealed that Siam Bioscience would be unlikely to be able to deliver its full share until May 2022 because of production problems.
Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Department of Medical Sciences, said at the same news conference on Wednesday that Thailand is still negotiating with other vaccine-makers to secure additional supplies.
"Our target to inoculate 100 million doses this year is still possible," he said.
Thailand has administered around 14.8 million vaccine doses. Around 11.3 million people, or 16 per cent of the country's 69 million population, have received at least one dose.