AstraZeneca partners in Southeast Asia has missed their dose delivery target in Thailand and shipments to other countries in the region have been delayed. The latest setback for the shots that were meant to be the backbone of the global inoculation effort.
Thailand was slated to receive and administer 6 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses in June but health authorities this week said they would be distributing only about 3.5 million of those shots this month. Pledging to still give out 6 million doses as planned.The Thai government appears to be making up the shortfall with millions of shots from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Shipments of shots made by Siam Bioscience, AstraZeneca Thailand, for Malaysia and the Philippines have also been delayed, though both countries say they don’t expect to be waiting for too long.
The situation comes on top of delivery problems at India’s Serum Institute of India Ltd, another AstraZeneca partner, which has left developing countries from Nepal to Rwanda short of shots that were promised through the World Health Organization-backed Covax program.
Siam Bioscience is AstraZeneca Thailand’s sole covid vaccine partner in Southeast Asia, a region that is trailing on inoculation and where the virus continues to flare, including in Thailand where infections have surged over the past two months.
AstraZeneca declined to comment, while Siam BioScience didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Philippines now expects a batch of nearly 1.2 million AstraZeneca shots to be shipped from Thailand in mid-July rather than this month, though a government official said the initial delay will not derail the country’s vaccination push.
In Malaysia, authorities say they’re working to resolve the issues around the delivery schedule, which the government stated in May would see 610,000 doses arrive from Thailand in June and another 410,000 in July.
AstraZeneca itself is also facing legal action from the European Union for a production shortfall, with the company only delivering 30 million doses to the bloc in the first quarter, compared with an original target of 120 million.
Thailand Seeking Alternatives
The Anglo-Swedish company, which partnered with the University of Oxford on the vaccine, received orders to supply as many as 3 billion doses worldwide before efficacy data came out last year. More than twice as many as any other first wave shot, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.
While not exclusive to AstraZeneca, the various delays — particularly out of India, which has banned the export of Covid vaccines. India’s ban has left dozens of countries that were counting on the shots desperate to find doses elsewhere, and undermined the company’s bid to supply the developing world.
Now, countries are turning to alternatives, particularly shots developed by Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm that recently received approval from the WHO. While they’re less effective than the Messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna these shots are easier to store and transport.
Thailand, which aims to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of this year, is also now allowing regional health authorities to extend the interval between AstraZeneca vaccine doses to 16 weeks, from 10 to 12 weeks previously, though officials say the move is to optimize the shot’s effectiveness and not for lack of supply.
The country has also ordered 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is in talks for 5 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it continues to expect deliveries of the AstraZeneca Thailand shots from Siam Bioscience.