Leaked memo leads to calls for mRNA vaccine

BANGKOK, Thailand — A leaked Public Health Ministry document has prompted calls for fully vaccinated medical staff to be given a booster of an mRNA vaccine.

The document, widely shared online on Sunday, was called the summary of a joint meeting of three committees — the academic committee under the 2015 Communicable Disease Act, subcommittee on antibody promotion and academic working group on the management and study of vaccinations.

The meeting took place on June 30 at the Disease Control Department in Bangkok, according to the document.

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It discussed how Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine — 1.5 million doses due to arrive this month and 20 million in the fourth quarter — should be allocated.

The revelation caught many by surprise. While all knew the government would buy 20 million doses to be shipped in the fourth quarter, nobody knew anything about the 1.5 million doses to come in July.

After some digging, netizens believe the early batch was donated by the United States. The government has not confirmed it.

According to the document, among the issues under discussion was the target groups for this vaccine. The first is people aged 12-18. The second is the risk group (the elderly, those with underlying conditions and pregnant women). The third is healthcare workers as a third dose or booster.

While the documents listed 16 comments from the meeting, the one that drew the most criticism was the 10th, which reads: “At present, if it [Pfizer vaccine] is administered on the third group, it is tantamount to admitting that Sinovac vaccine offers no protection. This will make it harder to defend it”.

Healthcare workers were the first group to get Covid-19 vaccines. At the time, there were only 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine imported from South Korea so almost all of them got the Chinese-made Sinovac shots.

Following the outbreak of Delta, which now makes up more than half of all cases in Bangkok, the epicentre of the third wave, there have been reports that fully vaccinated doctors and health workers have been infected and some of them are critically ill. Hospitals have therefore urged a booster dose of mRNA vaccine for this group.

According to the document, the meeting seemed to have agreed with this comment since it resolved to giving the first batch of Pfizer to the elderly aged 60 or more and women who are at least 12-week pregnant in the red zone, or Greater Bangkok, to reduce the fatality rate.

The document drew heavy criticism online since most view health workers should be best prepared to handle the crisis and they should get the vaccine with high efficacy first.

Some even vowed to lobby Washington to add a condition to that effect in its grant so the Thai government would be bound to give it to front-liners first.

On Monday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul admitted thedocument was authentic but insisted no final resolution had been made.

Opas Karnkavinpong, director-general of the Disease Control Department, said on the same day the document was not official or represented the opinions of the meeting.

“Its format is not even a standard meeting agenda. Different opinions were expressed at any meeting and propagating one comment out of its context is not right. It’s not fair to other participants,” said Dr Opas.

Demand for mRNA vaccines has been high in Thailand, especially after delays in their imports and the government’s insistence on buying Thais mainly the inactivated type. Millions of Thais are willing to pay 1,650 baht a dose for them.

Nine million people reportedly booked, and were willing to pay at least six months in advance, for the Moderna vaccine despite the free offers by the government. A new booking for the shots on Monday of an unspecified number by the Ramathiboi Hospital reportedly closed within five minutes due to overwhelming demand.      

World Health Organization experts found the Sinovac vaccine was efficacious in preventing Covid-19 in adults under 60, but some quality data on the risk of serious adverse effects was lacking.

Reporting by Patricia Elise Monsod. First Published by Bangkok Post

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