Thailand on Friday will commit to a THB2.37 billion (US$78 million) down payment on a promising COVID-19 vaccine.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha will sign off on the advance purchase of the vaccine from AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish firm behind the most promising so far of vaccines being developed under a global program to inoculate nations equitably.
Government spokesperson Traisulee Traisornranakul today said the vaccine candidate, which yesterday was said to be at least 70% effective, would likely be available in the kingdom by the middle of next year.
AstraZeneca developed the vaccine along with Oxford University under COVAX, a WHO-led program that at least 165 countries have agreed to support for fair and equitable distribution of approved vaccines. It is also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Under the program, Thailand will acquire vaccine samples for local manufacture and distribution.
On Monday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul explained that the hefty price tag of THB6.1 billion (US$199 million) approved last week will also cover the necessary infrastructure, materials, logistics and other aspects of distributing the vaccine. The funds will pay for 26 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough to inoculate 13 million people.
Anutin said they would reach out to other companies such as Pfizer or Moderna, who have teased vaccine candidates that are 90% and 95% effective, respectively. However, the minister said Thailand would first buy the potentially less-effective vaccine because the government has invested in its development and they need only pay THB151 per dose (US$5).
“If we can cover the risky groups, we won’t need to order from the others,” the health minister said. “We still support the mRna-based vaccines [developed by Pfizer and Moderna] … and we will find a channel to provide them.”
He added that health officials don’t have to order new coolers for storing the AstraZeneca vaccine as it doesn’t require -20C to -70C storage as those of Moderna and Pfizer, respectively.