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Thailand, Philippines sign for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, U.K. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand on Friday signed a $200 million deal to procure 26 million doses of a trial coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. It is expected to be delivered in mid-2021.

    The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.

    Thailand's National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht ($79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supply of the vaccine candidate. Another 3.67 billion baht ($121 million) agreement for the purchase of the trial vaccine, known as AZD1222, was signed by the Health Ministry's Disease Control Department.

    "We have followed the vaccine manufacturers globally, but this group has achieved very high progress," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said at the signing. "They are likely to be able to produce the vaccine early next year. Most importantly, we have to get ourselves ready for the domestic process including packaging and logistics."

    Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said officials are still considering how to prioritize vaccine recipients. "Those who work closely with COVID-19 patients, for example, doctors and nurses, should be among the first people. But this needs further discussion," he said.

    Oxford and AstraZeneca reported Monday that their trial vaccine appeared to be 62% effective in people who received two doses, and 90% effective when volunteers were given a half dose followed by a full dose.

    They did not mention at the time, but later acknowledged, that a manufacturing issue had resulted in "a half dose of the vaccine being administered as the first dose" to some participants, a development that led to criticism that its test results were flawed.

    AstraZeneca has said it plans to conduct a new global clinical trial to make a fresh assessment of the vaccine's efficacy.

    The AstraZeneca trial vaccine is regarded as having several advantages over rival vaccines being developed so far for less-developed countries, including cheaper cost and the ability to be stored at temperatures not as cold as the others.

    Under a separate deal in October, the Health Ministry, Siam Bioscience Co. and the SCG business conglomerate signed a letter of intent with AstraZeneca on the manufacturing and supply of the AZD1222 vaccine candidate. It would allow Siam Bioscience to produce the vaccine at its own plant, with a starting date targeted for the middle of next year.

    Siam Bioscience said that if plans proceed smoothly, Thailand would become the first country in Southeast Asia to produce the vaccine.

    Thailand has had 3,961 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since January, including 60 deaths. While it has coped well with the health aspects of the crisis, the measures it has taken to combat the disease, most notably stopping tourist flights into the country, have badly hurt its economy.

    In the Philippines, more than 30 companies on Friday signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country's first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees, business officials said.

    Business leader Jose Concepcion III said the vaccine is expected to be delivered in the second quarter of next year and would cover about 1 million people, but did not disclose other details.

    The purchase would be crucial in restoring business confidence that has been shattered by months of the pandemic and lockdowns, he said.

    "We want an end to this nightmare and this is the best alternative we have," Concepcion told an online news conference after the signing, describing it as an opportunity to open up the economy again.

    The Philippine government says it's targeting about 60 million Filipinos to be vaccinated against the coronavirus over about two years starting next year. The action, at a cost of more than 73 billion pesos ($1.4 billion) is aimed at developing immunity in a majority of the population. The Philippines has recorded 425,918 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 8,255 deaths.

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