Sinovac may be only choice for many

Sinovac may be only choice for many

A medical officer provides a Covid-19 jab with the Sinovac vaccine at Bang Sue Grand Station. Chanat Katanyu.
A medical officer provides a Covid-19 jab with the Sinovac vaccine at Bang Sue Grand Station. Chanat Katanyu.

One of the biggest concerns of many Thais is how to survive the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as the government's mass vaccination drive has hit so many obstacles.

They are also concerned about how to make a living, as many have lost their jobs and businesses which are collapsing under Covid-induced economic impacts.

Most appear to be pinning their hopes on the mRNA vaccines which are not yet available in Thailand. The 1.5 million doses of Pfizer donated by the United States are expected to arrive at the end of this month, but they are already fully booked for frontline medical personnel and expatriates living in Thailand.

For everyone else, especially those who reject the Sinovac vaccine out of their belief that this Chinese-made product is inferior in quality or a C-grade vaccine, as the media opposition politicians and celebrities keep saying, it's a grim business.

Of the vaccines procured by the government -- Pfizer and Moderna, both mRNA vaccines, AstraZeneca, a viral vector vaccine, Sinovac and Sinopharm, both inactivated vaccines -- Sinovac is said to be the least effective against the Delta variant.

But just take a close look at the "real world" information produced last week by Dr Sophon Iamsirithavorn, deputy director-general of the Disease Control Department.

According to him, about 700,000 medics were mostly fully inoculated with Sinovac vaccine and only 880 were infected with Covid-19. And of these infections, seven have died -- five were not vaccinated, one was fully inoculated and the other had received just one dose of the vaccine.

So, what do these figures tell us about Sinovac? Is the vaccine completely useless and should it be dumped?

Meanwhile, infections from the Delta variant are steadily resurging in the United States, Britain and Israel whose populations were inoculated with mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna and AstraZeneca.

According to Johns Hopkins University, between 25,000-30,000 new Delta variant infections were recorded each day during July 10-17. On July 20, about 46,000 new cases were logged in Britain.

This proves that mRNA vaccines do not protect a fully inoculated person from getting infected with the Delta strain although the vaccines are efficacious in preventing the onset of severe symptoms just as Sinovac is, although with lower efficiency.

The downgrading of Sinovac in Thailand appears to be somewhat politicised as well as commercially manipulated by some media and a private hospital involved in the procurement of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines into Thailand to be administered to the people for profit.

An anti-government student even changed the profile of well-known virologist Yong Pooworavan in Wikipedia, describing him as a Sinovac salesman.

The share prices of some private hospitals, namely Thonburi Healthcare Group, Vibhavadi and Kasemrad hospitals have increased during the past few weeks in tandem with media reports about the procurement of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines by a private hospital group.

However, only the Moderna vaccine deal has been proven to be real. The deal for five million doses ordered by private hospitals through the Government Pharmaceutical Organization has been signed with the first lot of 3.9 million doses expected in the 4th quarter of this year and the rest in the first quarter of next year.

But the 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deal claimed by Dr Boon Vanasin of the Thonburi Healthcare Group and amplified by a small group of media personalities for publicity's sake is still hot air.

The 40-page plus contract claimed to have been received by Dr Boon a week ago and scrutinised by lawyers is still shrouded in secrecy, raising the question whether it exists at all. But the open fact is that the company's share prices have already surged sharply.

Back to reality. There won't be any mRNA vaccines until the end of this year except for the 1.5 million doses of Pfizer donated by the US which are already fully booked.

Can the opposition parties do a better job by securing the needed vaccines faster? Or will exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who volunteered to help out the government in his recent Clubhouse chat, assume the role of knight in shining armour and rescue Thais by making available the mRNA vaccines before the fourth quarter, using his extensive influential connections?

Two months from now may be too much waiting while the Delta variant is not waiting at all as it relentlessly continues its surge of infection.

Many of us are defenceless like naked man left in the cold without a fire to warm him. But right in front of him is a worn-out jacket. Should he grab it or wait for someone to bring him a new jacket?

Sinovac is held in deep contempt by many Thais and foreigners because it is Chinese-made and the lack of scientific reports to back it.

The fact is, this is the only vaccine available in large supply. Take it or leave it as you wish. But make sure you make an informed judgement and ignore the advice of all pseudo doctors.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

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