Boon doubles down on vaccine-buy plan

Boon doubles down on vaccine-buy plan

Talk of big deal with Pfizer-BioNTech sends Thonburi Healthcare shares up 4%

Thonburi Hospital 2 is one of seven facilities operated by the company that Dr Boon Vanasin founded. (Post File Photo)
Thonburi Hospital 2 is one of seven facilities operated by the company that Dr Boon Vanasin founded. (Post File Photo)

Thonburi Healthcare Group (THG) has doubled down on its outspoken chairman’s claim to be buying Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, helping its share price rise despite denials by both drugmakers.

Dr Boon Vanasin’s claim that SET-listed THG was close to signing a deal for 20 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines was swiftly denied on Thursday by both companies, one day after the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) filed a defamation suit against him.

On Friday, THG stuck to its guns.

“THG has agreed to buy the vaccine and is currently in the process of filing documents with overseas dealers,” the company said in a statement to the Stock Exchange Thailand.

Dr Boon, 82, even told local media an agreement would be signed by Friday afternoon. By close of business, there was still no evidence of any deal.

THG shares were up 4% at one point on Friday  and closed at 32 baht, up 50 satang or 1.6%, in heavy trade worth 575.1 million baht.

It’s still unclear whether Dr Boon was insincere, the victim of a scam or — as he asserts — in the process of a brilliant fix to the country’s desperate vaccine needs.

He insists a deal was in the works through a government agency, which he declined to name.

“We are not doing it directly,” he told Reuters.

Still, his comments on Thursday added about 1.5 billion baht to THG’s market capitalisation, bringing it to 26.8 billion baht, Refinitiv Eikon data shows.

Thailand so far has only vaccinated 5% of its population of more than 66 million. It has been administering mostly Sinovac vaccine and AstraZeneca shots but the government is seeking other imported doses.

Dr Boon has been on a quest for vaccines for months, arguing that the government should not monopolise supply and calling the vaccine policy “complacent and reckless”.

In February, he tried to import vaccines, but was unsuccessful and later lodged a protest.

Months later the GPO said it would import five million doses of Moderna vaccine for private hospitals.

Demand for mRNA vaccines in Thailand is growing. Pre-orders for Moderna vaccines through private hospitals were snapped up in a hurry.

Dr Boon criticised the GPO for its process and on Wednesday the GPO filed a defamation suit against the Johns Hopkins-trained physician. He said he welcomed the complaint because evidence and documents could be revealed in court.

Dr Boon founded Thonburi Hospital in 1976 and oversaw its expansion into a network of seven hospitals with 963 registered beds. He took the company public in 2017.

THG, which also operates hospitals in Cambodia and Myanmar, booked losses of 215 million baht in the first quarter this year, taking a hit from the pandemic and drop off in medical tourists.

In 2017, he launched a $500-million “medical city” for the elderly called Jin Wellbeing County, targeting Thailand’s ageing population and foreign retirees.

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