Give private jabs a shot

Give private jabs a shot

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government is in hot water over its Covid-19 vaccination plan which critics view as sluggish and overly dependent on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The government has ordered 61 million AstraZeneca doses and two million doses from China-based Sinovac Biotech to inoculate about 30 million people, tentatively by the end of this year.

Yet inoculations could proceed much faster if more vaccines were imported. With more vaccine choices, private hospitals or even the private sector in general could help speed up Covid-19 immunisations.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a licensing and regulatory body under the Public Health Ministry, has approved three vaccines -- AstraZeneca, Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac and Johnson & Johnson's recently developed vaccine.

Now the India-based Bharat Biotech has applied to register its "Covaxin" vaccine in Thailand. The FDA is waiting for the Indian firm to submit documents from its third trial phase. After receiving the documents, it could take another month to get FDA approval.

It is reported that another 10 companies have shown an interest in registering their vaccine in Thailand and that negotiations are ongoing.

The government needs to step in and help these companies register their products faster.

With a wider variety of vaccines, consumers can have more choices and safeguards against the virus can be made stronger. At the same time, the workload on state hospitals can be reduced, as people can go to private hospitals and get their own jabs, without waiting in line for state-sponsored vaccines.

It is welcome news that the government is open to other vaccine sources. In a national address yesterday, Gen Prayut said the government was eyeing bringing in vaccines from Russia and America.

The challenge will fall to the committee on alternative vaccines under Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, a former public health minister.

Appointed by the prime minister on April 9, the committee has one month to find solutions.

So far, the committee has held a few meetings with the private sector to discuss some concerns. One of the hurdles slowing the import process for other Covid-19 vaccines is concern about liability.

Despite the fact that Covid-19 vaccines are considered "emergency vaccines" and pharmaceutical companies were relieved of the burden of having to pay compensation for any errors, many reportedly still prefer to export directly to governments.

In the case of Thailand, there are reports that companies prefer the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) under the Health Ministry to fill the gap. In normal circumstances, the GPO takes care of purchasing state medicines that are not for commercial purposes.

But with the GPO taking the role of the importer, these vaccines will be taken as official medical supplies.

In practice, those who then develop side effects after vaccination can access state medical treatment.

Indeed, the GPO is the importer of two million Sinovac doses.

Through the Department of Disease Control, the agency has distributed these vaccines to health officials and essential front-line workers.

The GPO should take the bold step of importing other vaccines and selling them to the private sector.

With the GPO as the importer, the state can control the price of alternative vaccines and consumers will be better protected.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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