Ratsadon pro-democracy demonstrators led by Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak gathered outside Siam Bioscience’s Bangkok headquarters this afternoon to protest the company’s role in Thailand’s Covid-19 vaccine programme.
Last week, Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit raised concerns over transparency in the government’s decision to hand the royally owned company responsibility for manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Thanathorn stated Siam Bioscience had been tasked with manufacturing 200 million doses of the vaccine per year, 176 million of which will be sold to other countries in the region.
He said the deal had left Thailand with insufficient vaccine to cover its entire population. The government filed a charge of lese majeste against him over the comments.
On Monday, Parit echoed Thanathorn's criticism in his speech to a small crowd outside the Srijulsup Building in Pathumwan, where Siam Bioscience is headquartered.
The activist said vaccines were now the country’s only hope since lockdowns were no longer an option and tourists would soon return. However, the government had not procured enough doses for all Thais, while its deals with vaccine manufacturers Sinovac and AstraZeneca had only benefited big pharma, he added.
The government had also continued with its deal to buy China’s Sinovac vaccine even after some countries suspended their purchases following news it was only 50.4 per cent effective, said Parit. He pointed to the fact that Sinovac was partially owned by Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group.
Siam Bioscience also lacked a track record in producing vaccines and had been in deficit for several years. Parit said the company was only handed the task because of the link between another royally owned corporation, Siam Cement Group, and Oxford University – AstraZeneca’s partner in Covid-19 vaccine development.
He said other pharmaceutical corporations have not been asked to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to documents he has seen.
The government is using Bt6 billion of taxpayers’ money to procure the 26 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, said Parit.
Those doses would not be enough to inoculate the entire population, because the government had failed to open up manufacturing rights to other businesses, he added. This showed the government was “heartless” and not acting in the public interest, said Parit.