Article by Silada Rojratanakiat
It is a challenge to comprehend Thailand’s COVID 19 vaccine strategy in the big picture, as nowadays, the headlines overwhelm society with criticisms, such as the slow pace of vaccinations and vaccine shortages. It is understandable that an increasingly complex environment should not be ignored, and that contemporary problems must be solved. Therefore, Thailand has working groups which have attempted to “put out the fire” in the dynamic and fast-paced COVID 19 situation. As vital as firefighting is in a crisis, no country can retake control of the situation and end the crisis in this manner. Thailand, meantime, has the National Vaccine Board to coordinate a strategic approach, rather than trying to just survive a crisis. A solid strategy is a consensus on the issues and how to address them. It will help to alter the crisis attributions and equip Thailand to better handle COVID 19 in the future. Hence, this article will elaborate on the four points that the National Vaccine Board seeks to promote to achieve a better tomorrow, which means looking beyond 2021.
First, Thailand continues making advance purchases from vaccine manufacturers. Although advance purchase agreements with vaccine producers are only a short-term solution, they are an efficient technique to assist the nation in obtaining a sufficient number of vaccines. The primary advantage of expediting Thailand’s access to COVID 19 vaccines is that it minimizes cumulative losses and promotes the country’s economic recovery. According to the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Thailand lost nearly 100 billion baht per month during the third wave of infection. So, to avert the country from future loss, Thailand has already begun discussions with the manufacturers of second-generation vaccines, which are predicted to be more effective against the virus. If the world can’t achieve herd immunity by the end of this year, there is a chance that the virus will continue to evolve. However, it is unlikely that COVID 19 will mutate to the point where vaccines become ineffective. A second-generation vaccine is expected for delivery in the first quarter of 2022.
Second, Thailand seeks to expand capacity through technology transfer. Since the early days, there has been a major fear that Thailand, a less-affluent nation unlikely to pioneer the COVID 19 vaccine, would be left behind, scrambling for scarce vaccine supplies. Vaccine development is a complicated and long process by nature, but receiving technology transfer enables a more rapid and agile action. While Thailand’s Siam Biosciences has previously obtained technology based on viral vectors from AstraZeneca, Thailand may also benefit from other platforms, such as the inactivated platform, the mRNA platform, or the protein subunit platform. Each technology has its own set of advantages when it comes to working with the immune system to provide protection. Moreover, having a variety of vaccines as alternatives gives people more choices. There are competent Thai vaccine makers who, if provided with the required technology and know-how, can manufacture COVID 19 vaccines. Thus, Thailand will continue negotiating to coordinate knowledge transfer in order to produce more COVID 19 vaccines locally. At the moment, due to the scarcity of COVID 19, vaccine manufacturers are under pressure to release their patents and provide critical manufacturing information to developing regions of the world. Thailand may seek to leverage the current situation by becoming a hub for the manufacturing of various sorts of jabs not only for domestic use, but also for export to neighboring countries.
Third, Thailand continues to work on developing home-grown vaccines. The scarcity of COVID 19 vaccines around the world, which places many countries in peril, proves that each country is solely responsible for its own population. The domestic vaccine development program is a long-term solution to deal with tight global supply and gives Thailand more options with fewer constraints. Thailand has some new promising “Team Thailand” vaccines on the horizon, such as ChulaCov19 from Chulalongkorn University using mRNA technology and NDV-HXP-S, an inactivated virus vaccine candidate, from a cooperative venture between the GPO and the American health non-profit unit called PATH. The news of homegrown vaccines offers a welcome glimmer of hope after years of the pandemic, but translating this hope into effective action needs resources and support from the government. When these locally developed vaccines are proven to be safe and effective in clinical trials, the government has to ensure that they are readily available immediately after the results of the trials. For example, the Thai mRNAs COVID 19 vaccine’s phase I human clinical trials began in mid-June. While the vaccine candidate’s phase III trial may take some time to complete, by that time, the Thai regulatory authorities should have established the scientific requirements for vaccination safety, efficacy, and quality necessary to approve ChulaCov19 for emergency use. Additionally, human trials need tens of thousands of people. Therefore, the government should support any chance of international collaboration to facilitate the process. Because various variations are detected in various places, developing a home-grown vaccine is a longer-term commitment to securing health systems. Locally developed vaccines are vaccines that understand nations in the region. In this case, investing in “Team Thailand” means taking a long-term view and focusing on sustainability.
Other than directing towards adequate advanced purchasing, successful transfer of technology, and sufficient government investment in locally developed vaccine candidates, the National Vaccine Board also pays attention to additional concerns, such as the COVID 19 vaccines in children and pregnant women, and how well the vaccines work outside of a study when these groups actually receive the shots. Moreover, it is not yet known how long vaccine-induced immunity against COVID 19 infection lasts in those who are vaccinated. The answer will help to decide the need for boosters of COVID 19 vaccines in the future. The world must continue to fill these gaps as research is conducted, and knowledge improves. The COVID 19 situation is anything but constant and predictable. However, one thing is certain: vaccine is the key instrument to control the virus, and the situation in Thailand will not improve until everyone has access to vaccines.