By Panu Wongcha-um and Juarawee Kittisilpa
BANGKOK (Reuters) – A researcher leading Thailand’s push to manufacture a coronavirus vaccine says its aim is to make it cost-effective and accessible to Southeast Asia, and play a part in preventing a supply shortage globally.
Thailand’s government announced last week its plans to have a vaccine ready for deployment next year after researchers at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University successfully conducted trials on mice.
“We don’t aim for making money. It’s not a money issue but an accessibility one,” said Kiat Ruxrungtham, director of the university’s coronavirus vaccine development.
Thai trials of the experimental vaccine using monkeys started on Saturday, one of at least 100 potential vaccines in the works around the world.
Kiat’s group has partnered with scientists and biotech companies in North America and wants to mass produce the vaccine in Thailand, at a price more affordable there and in nearby markets like Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.
With just over 3,000 cases and 57 deaths, Thailand has had some success in controlling the spread of the coronavirus and has started easing some restrictions.
In the past month it has typically been reporting cases each day of less than 10, compared to hundreds being confirmed daily in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“If our neighbours still have high infection numbers then we won’t survive as well in the long term,” Kiat added.
He said it was important not to rely only on major economies to develop and manufacture coronavirus vaccines, or there could be supply bottlenecks. “Lets say there is proof that it works, how can the manufacturing facility make millions or billions of doses?” he said.
“So a country like us, a small country, we need to step up and then do our own work as well.”
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Martin Petty)