Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha defended the government’s vaccination program on Tuesday, saying it had not been too slow or unfairly favored one producer over another.
Gen Prayut’s comments came after criticism that the government had been slow to procure and distribute the vaccines.
Some people say the response from authorities has been too slow, even as the nation faced the latest wave of COVID-19 infections that multiplied cases rapidly.
“Initially, the purchases Thailand made were based on the situation at that time, when we were successful in containing the outbreak,” the prime minister said.
He added that, at the time, the government did not want to put people’s lives at risk as some of the vaccines available used technology that had not been tried. Now that the vaccines have been used successfully in other parts of the world, officials have authorized their manufacturers to make proposals.
The government has been considering ways to buy them.
“Let me be clear. It’s not that we acted too late or too little,” said Gen Prayut. “Everything depends on the situation at a given time. We didn’t want to subject people to risk when the vaccine was first produced. Several countries opted to do the same.”
He assured that the vaccines the nation now had were being administered quickly and effectively.
“The idea of monopolizing a local vaccination never crossed our mind,” he said, adding: “All we have ever thought about is safety. We can’t afford to make the shots freely available because they are for emergency use only and the manufacturers won’t be liable for undesirable side effects.”
The prime minister also said he had responded to calls to allow the private sector to import vaccines from firms other than the two the government has bought.
He also spoke about people’s access to vaccines, saying that the Public Health Ministry would enable the public to use the Mor Prom mobile app to book vaccination appointments on May 1.
The number of people who would be vaccinated on a voluntary basis remained to be seen, Gen Prayut added.
His government is also awaiting price quotes from the US vaccine manufacturer, Pfizer, before going ahead with plans to buy between 5 and 10 million doses of its vaccine.
“I can’t confirm [whether Thailand will get it or not] but if all goes well, 5-10 million doses can be delivered as soon as July. The government is not dragging its feet,” he stated.
As of Tuesday, Thailand had received 2.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, 500,000 more doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive on Saturday and a million more doses are expected to be delivered next month.
Around 4-6 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, produced by local biotechnology firm Siam Bioscience, will be rolled out gradually starting June.