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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Vaccines bring hope, but we won’t be out of the woods for some time – Thai health officials



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Health officials in Thailand have welcomed the development of a number of seemingly-effective Covid-19 vaccines but warn that the “new normal” will remain for some time. In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Opas Karnkawinpong from the Department of Disease Control says people will still have to wear masks, observe social distancing, and wash their hands regularly.

“The challenge posed by Covid-19 is new and we have no playbook for it. No one knows whether these vaccines will work or how long the immunity will last. It is a learning process and scientists around the world can only watch and learn at the moment. Until the ministry is convinced the vaccination is effective and safe, restrictions will remain. And even after that, the easing will be gradual. The government must inoculate more than 50% of the population, then assess whether herd immunity kicks in.”

Opas confirms that, once available, the vaccine will be administered for free – at least for Thai residents. Certain groups will receive priority based on their risk level. The government has already committed to speeding up the vaccination timeline, as Thailand finds itself battling a resurgence of the virus. This will be the biggest vaccination drive ever carried out in the Kingdom.

Opas points out that, while administering the vaccine to tens of millions of people is a challenge in itself, the real test will be in monitoring what happens afterwards. He says it must be made clear to people that 1 shot is not enough and they must return for a second. Data will also need to be gathered to ascertain the vaccine’s effectiveness and how long protection lasts.

Thailand is due to take delivery of 200,000 vaccine doses from China at the end of next month, followed by increased supplies in March and April. Healthcare workers in provinces considered high-risk will be first in line, as well as border patrol officials and vulnerable members of society.

A full national roll-out is not expected to take place before May, with the arrival of 26 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the UK’s Oxford University. In addition, the government is in talks to procure a further 35 million doses shortly after. Both sides have also signed a technology-transfer agreement that gives manufacturing rights to the Thai firm, Siam Bioscience.

Meanwhile, Dr Nakorn Premsri from the National Vaccine Institute echoes the DDC’s note of caution.

“No vaccine is 100% effective. The influenza vaccine, for example, is only around 50% preventative. So, we can expect this vaccine only to reduce fatalities and relieve the symptoms. People must still take reasonable precautions. It won’t be until 2 years after most people are vaccinated that Covid-19 can no longer be considered an epidemic.”

He adds that in order for the Kingdom’s borders to reopen fully, officials should be aiming to vaccinate a minimum of 70% of residents in tourist areas.

Meanwhile, Sathit Pitutecha from the Public Health Ministry remains hopeful the vaccines will allow for the easing of some entry restrictions, including a wider choice of quarantine facilities, such as golf and spa resorts. However, experts agree it will be at least 2 years before revenue returns to what it was in pre-Covid times.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post


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