In a podcast, Gen Prayut addressed a number of questions surrounding the government’s vaccination programme, which ranged from procurement transparency, delivery schedules, efficacy, to safety and inoculation targets.
He also defended the government’s COVID-19 vaccine deal and roll-out plan, as critics continue to question the country’s immunisation policy.
The intense scrutiny began after Progressive Movement founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit criticised the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan in a Facebook Live session.
He questioned the government’s strategy for being too reliant on one company - Siam Bioscience, which is contracted by AstraZeneca to produce its COVID-19 vaccines under a technology-transfer agreement - to meet its’ vaccination needs.
Public criticism of the vaccination programme is mounting as countries which are part of the Covax agreement are now preparing to roll out their inoculation drive.
At the start of the pandemic, Thailand decided against joining the programme to pursue its own deals with vaccine manufacturers, as by law, the government is not allowed to spend money on vaccines which have not been proven to be effective.
In August last year, the Public Health Ministry and the National Vaccine institute began seeking deals with vaccine manufacturers.
To date, the government has purchased 26 million doses from AstraZeneca and 2 million doses from China’s Sinovac. Recently, the government reserved an additional 35 million doses from AstraZeneca.
In his podcast, Gen Prayut defended the decision, saying Thailand’s vaccine rollout is not late, considering the current problems surrounding production and deliveries.
He also said the government isn’t relying on a sole candidate to meet its COVID-19 vaccine needs, adding it is still looking to seal deals with other vaccine manufacturers.
“The decision to procure the vaccine from AstraZeneca was made after weighing the benefits and risks of each candidate,” he said.
“The management of vaccines also came into play. Some vaccines must be stored in extremely low temperatures and may prove to be an extra burden for our officials.”
The premier went on to deflect criticism from Siam Bioscience, saying AstraZeneca - not the government - chose the company over the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation to be its partner in manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
He stressed that Siam Bioscience had the capacity to benefit from the technology-transfer agreement and that it met AstraZeneca’s stringent production standards.
The premier also struck down claims the government is obstructing companies from importing COVID-19 vaccines, saying firms can import any vaccine, as long as they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
So far, only AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been approved for domestic use - the rest are still waiting for FDA’s approval.
Gen Prayut also addressed concerns about the number of procured doses which, according to some critics, won’t be enough to reach herd immunity, thus rendering the vaccination programme ineffective.
He said the procurement will continue and the government has not set a target as to how many doses should be secured.
On effectiveness and the safety of the vaccines, Gen Prayut said under the WHO guidelines, both AstraZeneca and Sinovac are considered effective.
Almost 25% of Thais don’t want vaccine
This came as an opinion survey by the National Institute of Development Administration, or Nida Poll showed a majority of people are satisfied with the government’s handling of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but almost a quarter of the population will not seek to be vaccinated.
The poll was conducted by telephone interviews on 1,315 people aged 15 and over of various levels of education and occupations throughout the country from Feb 1-3.
Asked what they would do regarding vaccination against COVID-19, 63.12% said they would accept a free jab provided by the government, but almost a quarter - 23.57% - said they don’t want to be vaccinated at all.
A further 7.98% would rather seek a jab from a private hospital with permission from the government at their own expense, while 5.33% had no comment or were not interested.
Asked whether they were afraid of being infected with the virus, a majority said “yes”, with 25.86% saying “very much” because the virus was spreading very quickly, elderly people were at risk of being infected and some people were not protecting themselves while vaccines were not yet available.
Another 37.79% saying they were moderately afraid as more people had been infected than in the first wave, but many were asymptomatic and had not isolated.
Of the rest, 18.86% were not particularly fearful of the virus, reasoning that most people knew how to protect themselves, and 17.49% were not afraid at all because they lived in low-risk areas.
On their satisfaction with the government’s handling of the second round of the pandemic, 27.60% were very satisfied and 42.13% moderately satisfied, saying that measures had been swiftly taken to contain the virus and zones clearly designated to indicate the severity of the outbreak.
Of the rest, 20.99% were not particularly satisfied, reasoning that some activities - such as parties, travel between provinces and arrivals of migrant workers - had not been properly controlled, and 9.28% were not satisfied at all, saying the whole country should be placed in lockdown.
Asked about the relaxation of restrictions against COVID-19 which began from Feb 1, 43.57% of the respondents fully agreed with it, saying it would allow people to resume their occupations while students and teachers could resume classes and other activities, while 34.68% were in moderate agreement, saying the medical system could now cope with it.
A further 14.75% were fairly opposed to the relaxation, saying the pandemic was still continuing unabated; 6.39% totally disagreed, reasoning some people were still not doing enough to protect themselves; and 0.61% had no comment or were not interested.