Thailand starts long-awaited COVID-19 vaccination drive

Thailand starts long-awaited COVID-19 vaccination drive

Mass COVID-19 vaccination rollout starts in Bangkok
People receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand, Jun 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

BANGKOK: Thailand kicked off a long-awaited mass vaccination campaign on Monday (Jun 7) as the country battles its third and worst wave of the coronavirus epidemic.

The government aims to administer 6 million doses this month, hoping to ease worries over the highly anticipated roll-out and concerns about supply shortages.

"The government will ensure that everyone is vaccinated," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in televised comments after he visited an inoculation centre in Bangkok.

There were, however, early hiccups as some vaccine centres registered more than their quota, leading to postponements, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference.

"We apologise if your vaccination appointment was postponed, but will make sure you are registered at the earliest," Opas said.

READ: Thai government reverses Bangkok's easing of COVID-19 measures

Hospitals last week delayed vaccinations for nearly 40,000 people, citing a limited supply.

Thailand escaped the worst of the coronavirus pandemic as it hit other countries hard last year, but is now grappling with its deadliest outbreak.

Officials have scrambled to source more vaccines amid the third wave, which so far accounts for more than 80 per cent of its 179,886 total infections and 1,269 fatalities.

Authorities on Monday said 235 cases of the B16172 variant, which ravaged India, had spread to nine provinces since it was first detected in Bangkok last month.

READ: India scientists say global response needed to contain more infectious B16172 COVID-19 variant

The outbreaks has highlighted criticisms of the country's vaccine programme for an over-reliance on AstraZeneca shots produced by royal-owned Siam Bioscience, a slow roll-out and a confusing registration system.

Mass COVID-19 vaccination rollout starts in Bangkok
A person receives the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand on Jun 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun) 

On Monday morning, 986 vaccination centres reported a total of 143,116 people received shots. That adds to 2.8 million people deemed vulnerable, including frontline health and transport workers.

"My feeling is that no matter what, we will need to go outside of home for the littlest things, so getting the vaccine gives us a sense of relief," said Praepawee Lertpongkijja, 38, at a Bangkok vaccination centre.

READ: COVID-19 sweeps through Thailand's overcrowded prisons

VACCINE SUPPLIES

The 6 million doses to be administered this month will be a mix of AstraZeneca and imported Sinovac vaccines.

Concerns were raised last week over local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by Siam Bioscience after the Philippines said its order had been reduced and delayed.

Mass COVID-19 vaccination rollout starts in Bangkok
People wait to receive the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Thailand start a mass inoculation at a gymnasium inside the Siam paragon Shopping center, Bangkok, Thailand June 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

The health ministry on Monday said it will receive an additional 3.42 million doses from AstraZeneca after mid-June, but did not specify how many would be locally made.

It received 1.8 million locally-produced AstraZeneca shots on Friday. Another 200,000 doses came from South Korea, a health ministry source told Reuters.

The country expects to sign contracts this week for 20 million shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 5 million doses from Johnson & Johnson

Private hospitals will offer two shots of the Moderna vaccine for 3,800 baht (US$121.91) after October, an industry group said, adding 10 million doses had been ordered.

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Source: Reuters/ad/dv

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