Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday insisted that Thailand has not failed in its procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and demanded that the media stop comparing Thailand with other countries.
His comments followed criticism that Thailand was slow to procure vaccines while several neighbouring countries have already started their roll-outs.
The country has not failed in this regard as it has become a base for the production of vaccines with the same formula as the leading university in England, he said, referring to the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Thailand is part of a supply chain which will make it easy for procurement and distribution of vaccines in the future. This is better than waiting for vaccines produced by other countries, which may have an impact on the country's vaccination programme, Mr Anutin said.
"Thailand had devised a carefully planned vaccination programme. But when a second wave occurred, it was necessary to adjust the plan," he said.
"While the second outbreak was the result of violations of laws -- illegal entry and gambling -- some are trying to point the finger of blame at public health officials," Mr Anutin said.
"I don't want anyone to compare the Thai public health system with other countries because Thailand ranked high on the list of countries that are successful in containing the Covid-19 outbreak," he said.
He also said the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines is expected to arrive in the country this month and it will be administered to those who need it most, as planned. He said his medical teams and officials are working hard to bring Covid-19 vaccines to the country and they are highly concerned about the safety of Thai people.
Last month, the Lowy Institute ranked Thailand 4th for its successful handling of Covid 19 in the Covid Performance Index of 98 countries worldwide.
Mr Anutin also hit back at critics of the government's vaccination programme, saying a lack of information will cause public confusion. He also rejected a claim by some media outlets that Thailand has not registered vaccines so they cannot be used.
"I once said vaccines are a delicate issue. Therefore, those who know nothing about it or do not have enough information but speak through the media will cause confusion among the public," Mr Anutin said.
Public criticism of the vaccination programme is mounting as countries which are part of the Covax agreement are now preparing to roll out their inoculation drives.
At the start of the pandemic, Thailand decided against joining the programme to pursue its own deals with vaccine manufacturers, as by law, the government is not allowed to spend money on vaccines which have not been proven to be effective.
In August last year, the Public Health Ministry and the National Vaccine Institute began seeking deals with vaccine manufacturers.
Covax is co-led by Geneva-based vaccine alliance Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), 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.
Mr Anutin also said on Tuesday local administration organisations and the private sector are not allowed to buy any Covid-19 vaccines by themselves for the time being.
Producers were testing their vaccines in human trials and agreed to sell them to governments for emergency use only, he added.
Vaccines would be used to prevent severe symptoms that may cause death, though whether they can prevent infections has yet to be confirmed, Mr Anutin said.
Asked how the government will screen imported vaccines, Mr Anutin said that producers will send information to the government and when the vaccines arrive, the Department of Medical Sciences will examine them to ensure they are in line with safety standards.
Mr Anutin said China has confirmed that it has approved exports of its Covid-19 vaccines to Thailand. China has registered the vaccines for emergency use and Thailand is also ready to do the same, he added.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday Thailand will have 2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of April, beginning with 200,000 doses this month. Speaking to reporters after the cabinet meeting at Government House, Gen Prayut said 800,000 more would be delivered next month. A further 1 million doses will arrive in April, Gen Prayut said.