Boon Vanasin, chairman of Thai hospital chain Thonburi Healthcare Group, has been talking to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers for several months now to try to procure as many doses as possible.
The group, which runs eight hospitals in the country, plans to sell vaccinations to private clients at a proposed price of 2,000 baht (US$65) per jab. Boon has already received some advance orders from tourism and manufacturing businesses.
Boon said he was hopeful there would be more vaccines available in the market later this year “when most of Europe and the US will be vaccinated”. If that happened, he said, he would review his proposed price of 2,000 baht for each vaccine dose. Moderna will submit its application for approval for its Covid-19 vaccine this month. The Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing Covid-19 after the second dose.
Surachoke Tangwiwat, a senior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official, told Reuters that in addition to Moderna, India’s Bharat Biotech had also started sending documents for registration of its vaccine.
Bharat Biotech’s vaccine showed interim efficacy of 81% in late-stage clinical trials, the firm said this month.
The FDA is expected to reach a decision this month on the vaccine of Johnson and Johnson, Surachoke said.
Thailand has so far has only approved the vaccines of Sinovac Biotech and AstraZeneca.
The doses from Chinese manufacturer Sinovac generally cost the most compared with other vaccines, Boon said, due to its inactivated vaccine technology – or the use of live viruses to stimulate antibodies.
“Having half of the population vaccinated by year-end is not enough,” Boon said. “Some 70-80 per cent of the population need to be vaccinated before then to create herd immunity and confidence [for visitors]. At least 16 million doses of vaccines are in high demand in around 20 tourism provinces of Thailand.”
Wichit Prakobkosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said many tourism businesses were willing to pay for Covid-19 jabs because it was a better option than “the free, but delayed doses from the government”.
“Thai tourism needs to restart by July at the soonest,” Wichit said. “The government should announce a clear tourism policy by April so that hotels and airlines can prepare to reopen and workers can be rehired after they left to find work elsewhere.”
Boon’s plan to sell vaccinations to private clients comes as health minister Anutin Charnvirakul this week said private hospitals would be allowed to import coronavirus vaccines and sell them directly to Thai and expat residents, as well as businesses eager to vaccinate their employees. The Health Minister became the first person in Thailand to receive a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinovac
The announcement signalled a shift in the government’s stance toward vaccine distribution by private hospitals, after a Bangkok hospital was in December told to stop advertising vaccinations online for a total cost of US$325.
It also makes Thailand the latest country in Southeast Asia to allow private-sector purchases of a public good that has been largely regulated by governments worldwide.
In ASEAN member states where the distribution of vaccines has been sluggish, private firms have taken matters into their own hands. In the Philippines, such firms can buy vaccines for employees, while Indonesian private businesses can buy state-procured doses from Sinopharm and Moderna to inoculate their staff. Malaysia said it would consider involving the private sector in distributing free vaccines alongside the government’s roll-out.