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Thailand’s highly anticipated mass vaccination campaign kicked off Monday as the country battles the third and worst wave of the coronavirus epidemic.
The government is set to introduce 6 million doses of the local AstraZeneca vaccine and the imported Sinovac vaccine this month, hoping to allay fears of slow adoption and supply shortages.
“The government will ensure everyone is vaccinated,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said in television commentary after visiting a vaccination center in Bangkok.
The government plans to vaccinate 70 percent of Thailand’s more than 66 million people by the end of the year. To date, 2.8 million people who are considered the most vulnerable, including health and transport workers, have received the first dose.
But the government has been criticized by opposition politicians, who accuse it of complacency and over-dependence on locally produced AstraZeneca doses.
Thailand escaped the worst of the pandemic when it hit other countries hard last year, but is now grappling with its deadliest outbreak. The third wave currently accounts for more than 80 percent of the total number of infections. Officials on Monday reported 2,419 new cases of COVID-19 infection and 33 deaths, bringing the total to 179,886 and 1,269 deaths.
“I believe that no matter what, we will have to leave the house for little things, so getting vaccinated gives us a sense of relief,” said Prapawi Lertpongkija, 38, from a vaccination center in Bangkok.
The government is struggling to find more vaccines as concerns have arisen over the production capacity of royal family-owned Siam Bioscience, a Thai company that produces the AstraZeneca vaccine locally, after the Philippines said its order had been scaled back and delayed.
The health ministry said in a statement that Thailand will receive an additional 3.24 million doses from AstraZeneca after mid-June, but did not specify how much will be produced locally.
The Thai government received 1.8 million injections of locally produced AstraZeneca on Friday and received another 200,000 doses from South Korea, a health ministry source told Reuters. Thailand plans to sign a contract this week for 20 million injections of Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.
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