Production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a factory in Thailand has fallen short of its target, likely delaying the country's plan to acquire a total of 61 million doses until next May, a government official said Thursday.
The projected supply shortfall will complicate plans to inoculate at least 70% of the country’s 69 million people this year as Thailand battles record-high daily increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Cases have risen with the spread of the more contagious delta variant of the virus.
Deputy Health Minister Sathit Pitutacha said in an interview with MCOT Television that AstraZeneca had asked for the extension until next May to complete delivery, and that while the timeframe is flexible, the government will still negotiate for as much monthly supply as possible.
He said that according to AstraZeneca, the current production capacity of the factory operated by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand's king, is 15 million doses per month, and that AstraZeneca has agreed to provide 40% of that to Thailand. Sathit said production could increase in the future.
The government had previously announced that local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine would supply Thailand with 6 million doses in June, 10 million doses each month from July to November, and 5 million doses in December for a total of 61 million doses this year.
Siam Bioscience was awarded a license by AstraZeneca last year to be a regional production hub supplying eight other countries despite having no experience in manufacturing vaccines.
The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has been widely criticized for failing to secure timely and adequate vaccine supplies, and has been scrambling to obtain vaccines in addition to Sinovac and Sinopharm from China and the locally produced AstraZeneca. The government says it now has agreements to also buy from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Thai health authorities said Wednesday they will seek to impose limits on exports of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine because the country doesn’t have enough for its own needs. They did not specify what the limits might be.
Dr. Nakorn Premsri, director of the National Vaccine Institute, said its vaccine committee agreed in principle to issue an order temporarily limiting exports, but did not give any details. The order would be issued by designating it a matter of national security.
India the world’s biggest vaccine producer, banned vaccine exports earlier this year when it was hit by a devastating coronavirus outbreak.
Thailand has administered 13.53 million doses of vaccine to 10.16 million people, or 14.74% of the country’s population. About 3.37 million people, or 4.89% of the population, are fully vaccinated.
The slow pace of vaccinations, hindered by supply problems, threatens the government's plan to kickstart a recovery of Thailand's key tourist industry by allowing the entry of vaccinated travelers without requiring them to quarantine on arrival starting in mid-October.