Govt warned over AZ jab export curbs

Govt warned over AZ jab export curbs

An official demonstrates how a vaccine-drawing machine works. The innovation can draw 11-12 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from a multi-dose vial in four minutes. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
An official demonstrates how a vaccine-drawing machine works. The innovation can draw 11-12 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from a multi-dose vial in four minutes. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

A legal expert on Friday warned the government it would face a backlash if it bowed to pressure to curb exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine to ease supply shortages at home.

Borwornsak Uwanno, a member of the Council of State, wrote on his Facebook page that the government must weigh up the risks and benefits associated with such a move as the legal repercussions would be tremendous.

The warning came after Prasert Auewarakul, deputy dean for Research at Siriraj Hospital's Faculty of Medicine, launched a campaign calling for the government to invoke a law on national vaccine security to limit exports of AstraZeneca vaccine locally manufactured by Siam Bioscience.

According to Dr Prasert, in the next two to three months, the country could face a heavy vaccine shortage if no more stocks were obtained and said that the government should take the bull by the horns by temporarily limiting or ceasing vaccine exports.

Mr Borwornsak said while the export curbs would relieve vaccine shortages, reduce severe cases of Covid-19 and ease the workload of healthcare workers, there would be legal consequences.

He said the government could be violating the constitution requiring it to uphold the law if it proceeded to limit vaccine exports.

By doing so, the government would have failed to honour contracts it made with the manufacturer, which in turn could sue the government for damages as it would not be able to fulfil contracts with other countries.

"The government would be made to compensate for damages as demanded and no one knows how much it would be. It could be billions or tens of billions," he wrote.

Mr Borwornsak said the country would also lose credibility among foreign investors and become a "black sheep" in Asean and the international community whose vaccine supplies were disrupted.

He said he had tried in vain late last year to tell the government to procure as many vaccines as possible and prepare for a post-Covid-19 recovery.

"Apparently they didn't hear me, so we're here in the crisis. And before the government makes a decision in response to criticism, it should carefully consider the pros and cons," he wrote.

According to Dr Prasert, suspending exports would impact other countries which ordered the AstraZeneca vaccine but he believed the effect would be minimal.

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