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Thailand begins human trial of own COVID-19 vaccines



THAILAND started human trials on Monday of a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine and expects to deploy it next year, which its Health Minister said could give the country more freedom with its vaccine policy.

  The homegrown vaccines will not be ready for mass production in time to help Thailand fight off the latest wave. Officials and developers are hoping, though, that they will arrive in time to give Thailand — and maybe its neighbors — booster shots tailored to the main variants of the novel coronavirus by next year.

  “The vaccine will be against the variants like the South African variant and the Indian variant and others, so that will be our strategy,” said Kiat Ruxrungtham, who is spearheading development of one of the most anticipated candidates at Chulalongkorn University’s Vaccine Research Center in Bangkok.

  For now, Thailand is relying on a mix of vaccines from foreign drugmakers to reach herd immunity by the end of the year.

  Having kept infection rates low through 2020 with tight border controls and strict social distancing, Thailand secured relatively few doses early in the pandemic. It bought a few million shots from China’s Sinovac for the most vulnerable and struck a deal with AstraZeneca that lets local drugmaker SiamBioscience manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

  Then came the third wave in April, sending death and infection rates to record highs, and authorities on a vaccine shopping spree, striking deals with Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm. The government says it has now locked in 105.5 million doses, enough to cover over 70% of Thailand’s 69 million people, and is looking for more.

  Thai authorities and developers, though, still see a crucial role for the homegrown vaccines.

  Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of disease control at the Public Health Ministry, said the new vaccines will help keep Thailand safe once the effects of the first full round of doses start wearing off.

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