While all other Asean countries are in line to receive the Covid-19 vaccine through a Covax vaccine-sharing programme in the first and second quarters of this year, Thailand's Public Health Ministry sees the programme's requirements too limiting to put down billions of baht in deposits to join.
Under the programme, the kingdom cannot fully choose the vaccine it would get, when it would get the vaccine and the cost might be higher than acquiring from direct negotiations with the producers, authorities said.
Nakorn Premsri, director of the National Vaccine Institute, said Thailand might have to wait a long time and buy the Covid-19 vaccine at a higher price if it procured the vaccine via the Covax programme.
However, Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Department of Medical Sciences who is also deputy chairman of a committee acquiring vaccines for Thais, said negotiations are still going on. With acceptable conditions, Thailand might procure 15 million doses of the vaccine from Covax in the future.
Covax is co-led by Geneva-based vaccine alliance Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation, to accelerate the development and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines, and guarantee equitable access for every country in the world. It provides free or cheap vaccines to poor countries. However, Thailand is categorised as self-financing.
The programme announced its interim distribution forecast on Wednesday providing information on early projected availability of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the first quarter of this year and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine candidate in the first half of the year to Covax facility participants.
Some 145 countries are set to receive enough doses to immunise 3.3% of their population by mid-2021. Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore are listed as Self-Financing Participants while six other countries are in the Advance Market Commitment group.
"We are being asked to pay about 4 billion baht for the product when we don't know for sure what we will get and when we are going to get it. We might get a very expensive vaccine that is not easy to transport or a vaccine of a quality that we are not satisfied with. We have no way to choose what is best for us," he said, adding the minimum price for a vaccine under Covax is US$10.50 (310 baht) per dose.
According to Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand stands to get a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca for US$5 or about 150 baht. Watcharapong Kuwijitsuwan, secretary to Public Health Minister, said if Thailand decided to join but later refused to sign contracts with the firms providing the vaccine as allocated by Covax, it would have to lose its deposit.
Dr Supakit said Thailand initially responded to the Covax invitation with interest, as it is one way to acquire Covid-19 vaccines for Thais. However, many details mentioned by the agreement left the ministry uneasy, especially given possible legal concerns in the event of any dispute.
He said the deal with AstraZeneca to provide 26 million doses of the vaccine to the country, with an extra 35 million doses in the middle of this year has kept the ministry from rushing into the deal with Covax. "We know which horse is going to be the winner so we don't need to spend a lot of money on the others," he said.
In a separate development, Sinovac, a Chinese company that Thailand is counting on to get its stalled vaccination programme off the ground, announced yesterday that Chinese drug regulators have given conditional market approval to its Covid-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, Mr Anutin said Johnson & Johnson company is ready to send its Covid-19 vaccine by the third quarter if the government places an order. The company is in the process of applying for registration with the Thai Food and Drug Administration.