Thailand aims to boost its vaccine order by more than 50% to 100 million doses this year in a bid to reach herd immunity, as surging local infections threaten to derail plans to reopen tourism borders and restart the economy.
The government plans to buy 35 million more doses from two or three manufacturers with a target to administer them all by the end of 2021, said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha a day after chairing a meeting on the country’s new vaccination plan . The National Vaccine Institute is in talks with Pfizer Inc. for as many as 10 million doses, he said Tuesday.
Thailand’s rating comes from vaccination efforts as Moody’s Investor Service warns that a new wave of Covid-19 outbreaks is threatening to further deregulate a tourism-dependent economy for about one-fifth of gross domestic product. Infections have soared more than 60% so far this month, triggering at least two GDP downgrades, while less than 1% of Thais have received at least one of two vaccine doses.
Read: Thailand’s Restrictions to Restrict Economic Recovery: Moody’s
“The phased roll-out has been too slow,” Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary general of the Eastern Economic Corridor Office, who attended Tuesday’s meeting with the prime minister, said in an interview.
So far Thailand has relied on Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shots. for its priority sector employees and people of at least 60 years. He has also ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc injections to be produced locally by Siam Bioscience Ltd. which will be delivered from June.
With resurrection, the focus should be on administering vaccines as soon as possible to reopen to tourists and foreign investors, said Kanit, who is also a member of the Bank of Thailand’s Monetary Policy Committee. “If we cannot contain the outbreak situation and we cannot reach the herd immunity, no one will come here.”
Thailand has announced plans to reopen Phuket from July by omitting quarantine for vaccinated foreign tourists who go there. It uses the destination island as a testing ground before expanding similar mitigation measures to other destinations like Koh Samui.
Phuket is on track to vaccinate 70% of its adult population before July and the current outbreak is unlikely to delay the planned reopening, Phumket Tourism Association president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam said Wednesday. The island will vaccinate 47% of its population by the end of May, similar to the current level in the Maldives, he said.
The central bank of Thailand has said that its 3% growth forecast for this year is facing downward risks if its target of 3 million tourists is not met. The nation’s tourism industry generated more than $ 60 billion in revenue from approximately 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.
“The outbreak and introduction of vaccine are two separate issues, and as long as we can reach the herd immunity target, we can reopen,” said Bhummikitti, whose association represents around 300 members including luxury resorts and operators a five-star hotel in Phuket. “This is a plan that can’t be stopped.”