October delivery of Moderna 'still possible'

October delivery of Moderna 'still possible'

GPO, private hospitals vow to keep first shipment on schedule

Still out of reach for Thais. A pharmacist holds a vial of Moderna vaccine inside a Walmart store in West Haven, Connecticut, on Feb 17. (Reuters file photo)
Still out of reach for Thais. A pharmacist holds a vial of Moderna vaccine inside a Walmart store in West Haven, Connecticut, on Feb 17. (Reuters file photo)

The first lot of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine may arrive in October as expected earlier after all, according to Thai buyers.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) and the Private Hospitals Association issued a joint statement on Saturday following heavy criticism about the delayed delivery of the first batch.  

Zuellig Pharma Co, the representative office in Thailand of the American company, on Friday issued a statement saying Moderna’s production base in Europe registered for exports might not be able to ship until early November. It would deliver the rest of 1.9 million doses in the fourth quarter of this year. 

Earlier, the GPO had said the vaccine would arrive in batches each month, starting from October. Private hospitals have since arranged vaccination schedules for the shots, which cost 1,650 baht per dose or 3,300 baht per person inclusive of insurance and other fees.

The one-month delay might not be much but appeared to be the last straw for people who had paid in advance in June in the hopes of getting the shots in October. 

Most understand that private hospitals have little control over the deal since they are not allowed to buy directly from Zuellig but had to ask the GPO, as a state agency, to import them on their behalf.

Reactions of people who had booked the vaccines were mostly ferocious, with many demanding refunds, saying the schedule was changed and they could no longer wait.

A reason for the refunds may also be the availability of more vaccines, including Pfizer, which, like Moderna, uses the mRNA technology. Besides, some opted for other vaccines in the wake of the third wave, which has claimed more than 16,000 lives. 

One Facebook commentator who sought a refund said that since he had booked the vaccine in June, his entire family had been infected with Covid and his father had died, yet he still did not get the shots he paid for. 

The target of resentment landed squarely on the GPO, prompting it to issue the statement on Saturday with a more positive note.

“The GPO and the Private Hospitals Association will follow up and speed up on the October delivery. Once we get them, we will distribute them to member hospitals as soon as possible,” read the statement.

According to the GPO, the remaining 3.1 million doses under the first contract and the 6.8 million doses under the second contract would be handed over in 2022.

Another 9 million doses of Moderna will also be bought by two state agencies to be administered next year to people, especially vulnerable groups.

The two agencies are the Red Cross and Chulabhorn Royal Academy. Both are authorised to import vaccines without having to go through the GPO. 

As well, the cabinet on Sept 15 approved 946 million baht from the central fund for the Red Cross to buy 1 million more doses or Moderna.

Long and winding road

In June, Thais were allowed to book Moderna, an alternative vaccine not provided by the government.

The green light was reluctantly given in April after a push by the top executives at private hospitals and the emergence of the Delta variant.

At the time, supplies of government-provided Covid-19 vaccines were limited. The production of AstraZeneca at the Thai facility was delayed. The only vaccine Thailand could get its hands on at the time was the Chinese-made Sinovac, which has since become the main vaccine for Thais since early this year.

People booked as many as 9.2 million doses of Moderna. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was surprised and said in late July he did not believe that so many people would pay to get the vaccine when the government was giving out others for free.

After the bookings were closed, the GPO refused to place an order until all the money was given to it by the private hospitals, citing financial risks. The process took another month.

After getting the money, the GPO placed the order for 5 million Moderna doses in late July and said the first deliveries were to be expected from the fourth quarter through the first quarter of next year. 

But after the order was placed, some private hospitals revealed that they might need to refund money to some buyes because 1 million doses from the early order would go to the Thai Red Cross Society to be given to vulnerable groups. It turned out the Red Cross was going to sell the shots to local administrations nationwide, which are obliged to give them to vulnerable groups for free.

The news angered some paying customers who felt their quota had been unfairly cut to accommodate the Red Cross, which has never said anything about its order of the vaccine in the same lot. Besides, the society is one of the few authorised to import the vaccines by itself without having to go through the GPO.

The GPO and the Red Cross denied this was the case, saying the Red Cross quota was separate from that ordered by private hospitals.

A leak of the letter from an army unit to the Red Cross in late July asking it to give free Moderna shots to their personnel, including their family members, did not help the Red Cross’s image.

It remained unclear how the vaccine will be allocated once it arrives — whether the Red Cross would get its 1 million doses from the first batch or whether its quota would be adjusted proportionally like those of the private hospitals.

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