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National Vaccine Institute defends opting out of COVAX

Neill Fronde

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PHOTO: The Thai government is justifying its decision not to join COVAX, the global vaccine distribution programme. (via UNICEF)

The chief of the National Vaccine Institute spoke out defending Thailand’s decision to forego the COVAX vaccine programme as the government comes under renewed fire as part of the ongoing censure debate. He maintains that Thailand is better off without the program.

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the members of the ruling party in the cabinet are currently facing a vote of no-confidence during a 4-day censure hearing, with the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic as a major focus of the debates. While Thailand was riding high as one of the countries with the least Covid-19 all last year, the government opted out of the programme that is helping distribute vaccines around the world.

Many have criticised the decision as a brazen lack of foresight, including Pheu Thai Party leaders referring to it as “a vaccine management failure”. The current slow vaccine rollout and shortages is pointed to as further evidence that the government got complacent with their Covid-19 success and failed to get started early on vaccine procurement that the country now so desperately needs.

But the director of the NVI says that Thailand is doing better by procuring vaccines direction from the manufacturers without the help of a global middleman. He claims that Thailand’s decision to opt out of the programme was based on COVAX’s limited supply of vaccines and higher prices when compared with buying directly from the source.

NVI previously justified Thailand’s decision in June by saying that the COVAX programme really only benefits low-income countries who would receive free vaccines, but Thailand did not qualify and therefore would have to pay for the vaccines including an additional management fee, driving up the price.

The director said that the COVAX programme would have provided Thailand mainly with its own locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines, but with the extra fees, the government would end up paying significantly more. He also argued that after the devastating Covid-19 outbreak in India in April created supply issues and vaccine shipment delays for COVAX anyway.

The NVI says that only 224 million vaccines have been distributed amongst the 139 participating COVAX countries, a number that ends up being far lower than what Thailand was able to secure independently. As such, the Ministry of Public Health will continue to procure vaccines from the manufacturers but hasn’t ruled out joining COVAX in the future if things change.

SOURCE: National News Bureau of Thailand

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Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10 years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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