Thailand Official Apologizes for Country Failing to Acquire Enough COVID Vaccines

A Thailand health official apologized for the country's failure to acquire enough COVID-19 vaccines as rapidly spreading cases and deaths set new records in the country.

Thailand's National Vaccine Institute director Nakorn Premsri apologized to the public during a news conference that the organization "has not managed to procure a sufficient amount of vaccines appropriate for the situation" but added, "we have tried our best." The country reported a record new 13,002 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

"The mutations (of the virus) were something that could not be predicted, which have caused a more rapid spread than last year," Nakorn said as the Delta variant has contributed to the country's infections. "The vaccine procurement effort did not match the current situation."

The country is the only Southeast Asian nation that did not join U.N.-backed COVAX, the worldwide initiative providing equitable access to vaccines, the Associated Press reported. However, Nakorn said Thailand will join the organization next year to receive vaccine donations.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Children Wear Masks in Thailand
A health official in Thailand apologized for the country's failure to acquire enough COVID-19 vaccines. In this photo, people pray next to the grave of relatives at a cemetery during the Eid al-Adha festival in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat on July 21, 2021. Madaree Tohlala/AFP via Getty Images

There is fear that the COVID-19 numbers will get much worse in Thailand because the government failed to secure significant vaccine supplies in advance of the onslaught.

The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus has exacerbated the situation, as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's government seeks to buy vaccines to supplement the modest amounts it has on hand of Sinovac and Sinopharm from China and locally produced AstraZeneca.

In addition to failing to buy enough vaccines, Prayuth's government has come under severe criticism because some studies show the Chinese vaccines are less effective against the Delta variant than those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

COVAX is directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization. Nakorn said he expects Thailand will be able to receive vaccines from COVAX by the first quarter of next year.

The government explained in February that it did not join COVAX since Thailand is categorized as a middle-income country and it would not get free or cheap vaccines from the program. It claimed it would have to pay high prices in advance without knowing which vaccines it would get and when it would get them.

"Buying vaccines directly from the manufacturers is an appropriate choice...as it's more flexible," government spokesperson Anucha Buraphachaisri said at the time.

That explanation was later criticized when the government urgently imported Sinovac at a high price even though questions had already arisen about its efficacy.

Thailand planned to administer 100 million inoculations this year and has reserved 105.5 million doses from several companies. Of those, 61 million doses were to be AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand's king, 19.5 million doses from Sinovac, 20 million doses from Pfizer and 5 million doses from Johnson & Johnson.

Last week, however, new doubts were cast on the plan when it was revealed that Siam Bioscience is unlikely to be able to deliver its full share until May 2022 because of production problems.

Supakit Sirilak, chief of the Department of Medical Sciences, said at the same news conference that Thailand is still negotiating with other vaccine makers to secure additional supplies.

"Our target to inoculate 100 million doses this year is still possible," he said.

Thailand's total confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 439,477 cases Wednesday.

It has administered around 14.8 million vaccine doses, including 10.7 million doses since June. Around 11.3 million people, or 16 percent of the country's 69 million population, have received at least one dose.

Mask Wearing in Thailand
Thailand's National Vaccine Institute said they "tried their best" to get enough vaccines. Here, passengers sit spaced apart while wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 21, 2021. Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo