Dr Prasert said the next three months will be a major turning point for the national vaccination campaign when enough vaccines put the government in a better position to bring down COVID-19 infections and fatalities.
He asked people to join a mass signature petition via Change.org calling for the government to invoke the law on national vaccine security to limit exports of AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured by Siam Bioscience. With less vaccines being exported, there will be more left for domestic inoculation.
Even though vaccine supplies have risen due to foreign donations and an increase in procurement, the boost is only short term. In the next two to three months, the country could face a heavy vaccine shortage if no more stocks are obtained, he said.
Dr Prasert said a straightforward step now was to temporarily reduce or cease vaccine exports by Siam Bioscience and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is authorised to enforce the vaccine security law.
Siam Bioscience has the capacity to produce 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine a month. If the law was applied, the country would have between 20mn and 30mn doses available for local immunisation in the next three months, he said.
“We would then be able to better equipped to contain the pandemic and push down fatalities,” Dr Prasert said.
Dr Prasert admitted suspending exports would impact other countries which ordered the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, he believed the effect would be minimal as, unlike Thailand, these countries do not rely on AstraZeneca as their main vaccine.
Meanwhile, about 20 million people have been vaccinated so far, according to Dr Sirirerk Songsivilai, permanent secretary for higher education, science, research and innovation.
He said the last 10mn doses were administered within 36 days or 3.4 times faster than the first 10mn jabs.
To date, 23% of the population has received their first dose, 6.7% two doses and 0.3% their third. Phuket is the most vaccinated province at 75% of the population, followed by Bangkok at 70%.
Outcry over Pfizer allocation cuts
Meanwhile, several hospitals yesterday cried foul over “sharp cuts” in the allocation of Pfizer vaccines as a booster dose for frontline medical workers after the Public Health Ministry started their rollout.
Dr Chatchai Mingmalairak, director of Thammasat University field hospital, wrote on Facebook that its request for Pfizer vaccines has been slashed by 40% and such vaccine management was very demoralising.
He said the 400-bed facility was among the very first in the country set up to treat and care for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms in the first outbreak. It also provided vaccination services, giving shots to more than 100,000 people. The facility also took care of some 1,000 COVID-19 patients under the home isolation programme while the main hospital was treating about 100 severe COVID-19 cases.
Despite this, the hospital was allocated only 60% of the Pfizer vaccines it asked for as booster shots for frontline medical workers, he said stressing that the requested doses were limited to those who worked with COVID-19 patients.
Dr Chatchai demanded to know the criteria the Public Health Ministry has adopted in vaccine distribution and questioned why it even bothered asking the hospital to submit its request in the first place.
Apisamai Srirangson, assistant spokeswoman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) yesterday attempted to clarify the distribution of Pfizer vaccine, saying in the first lot about 50%-60% of the requests were allocated. However, she insisted that more would be on the way and the ministry would have to assess the capacity of each vaccination site. Dr Apisamai noted that not every hospital can administer the Pfizer vaccine which requires ultra-cold storage during transportation.
In Nakhon Ratchasima, Dr Jade Boonyawongwiroj, assistant director of Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital, said only 15,800 Pfizer doses had been allocated to the province. He said about 100,000 medical workers had registered for the Pfizer vaccine, while some 14,000 others had opted for AstraZeneca as their booster shot.
At Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital, about 4,000 medical personnel signed up for Pfizer. In Khon Kaen, Dr Somchai Piyawatwela, the provincial public health chief, said Khon Kaen Hospital had requested 1,400 doses of Pfizer for frontline medical workers, but got only half of the amount. He urged the ministry to review its vaccine allocation and make sure frontline workers were protected.
Meanwhile, the provincial public health office in Loei yesterday clarified that an army sergeant who received Pfizer as a third shot was a male nurse working at a hospital after online criticism suggested he should not have been given the jab.