The Chulabhorn Royal Academy's (CRA) plan to import "alternative Covid-19 vaccines" from Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company, on Thursday triggered criticism over the government's vaccine procurement plan.
The CRA announced a plan to procure alternative vaccines to supplement the government's national Covid-19 vaccination drive.
The announcement was published in the Royal Gazette on Tuesday, and it was signed by Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Krom Phra Srisavangavadhana, chancellor of the academy.
Citing the CRA Act, the announcement authorises the CRA to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nithi Mahanonda, the secretary-general of the CRA, wrote on Facebook that the CRA would procure "alternative vaccines" until those produced in Thailand were sufficient to protect against the pandemic.
The CRA would then gradually reduce its purchase of these alternative vaccines, Mr Nithi said, adding that the CRA was required to comply with the laws governing the production and importation of vaccines, and the registration of medical supplies for emergency use.
The announcement was part of the CRA's regular missions under the law governing its establishment.
The emergency plan was approved by the CRA council to support the government through the academy's research and academic capabilities and special contacts with foreign countries.
The CRA is expected to explain details today of a plan to import the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines and how it would handle its vaccine purchases.
Paisarn Dunkum, secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration, had previously said the Sinopharm vaccines, which will be imported by Thai company Biogenetech, were still awaiting its approval.
Sources said that at least one million doses of the vaccine were expected to be imported as "alternative vaccines" for Thais.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the CRA had the legal authority to import medical supplies and equipment. Nonetheless, it still had to follow other laws regarding FDA registration, Mr Wissanu said. He stressed the CRA was only exercising its right amid an emergency situation in which other vaccines were still in short supply.
"The announcement is only intended to fill the void," he said, adding that the CRA's procurement would not duplicate that of the Public Health Ministry.
Mr Wissanu said the CRA was well placed to source overseas supplies. "From now on, the CRA can procure directly from manufacturers. If approved by the FDA, they can be imported, using the budget of the CRA, not the state budget," he said.
Meanwhile, a document from Accap Asset Co circulated on social media, saying that the company had tried and failed to sell 20 million doses of a Covid vaccine to the Thai government. The report said the company had asked to meet the prime minister and the public health minister but could not reach them.
However, FDA's deputy secretary-general Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat said he had never even heard of the company and anyway, it would be impossible for the government to procure any vaccine before it was registered in Thailand -- even Sinopharm had only recently been approved, he added.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he knew nothing about the announcement before it was published. "I just saw the announcement last night," he said. "But if it is a benefit to the country, we are ready."
Meanwhile, there was a new daily record with 47 more Covid-19 fatalities over the past 24 hours, and 3,323 new infections, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
There were 2,104 new cases among the general public and 1,219 in prisons.
The CCSA said that the 47 new fatalities were aged 26-87 years -- 26 were men and 21 women. Bangkok had the most new cases (894), followed by 280 in Samut Prakan, 233 in Phetchaburi, 129 in Nonthaburi, 98 in Pathum Thani, 59 in Samut Sakhon, 52 in Chon Buri, 45 in Chiang Rai, 35 in Nakhon Pathom and 31 in Songkhla.