UPDATE 1-Royal Academy seeks 1 million vaccines as Thailand approves Sinopharm

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BANGKOK, May 28 (Reuters) – A royal academy chaired by Princess Chulabhorn, the king of Thailand’s younger sister, announced on Friday that it will import 1 million doses of Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine next month, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared its use.

“We want to help fill the gaps for businesses, schools, so they can move forward,” Nithi Mahanonda, secretary general of the Royal Academy of Chulabhorn said at a press briefing.

Earlier this week, the academy announced it would import “alternative vaccines” to complement the government campaign.

The government’s chaotic and widely criticized mass vaccination program is due to start next month, mainly using AstraZeneca vaccines made locally by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The government has announced that it will have 6 million doses of AstraZenaca and 3 million doses of Sinovac in June.

On Friday, the FDA approved the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, making it the fifth approved by Thailand after AstraZenaca, CoronaVac from Sinovac, Janssen and Moderna from Johnson & Johnson.

The acquisition of the Royal Academy comes after Thailand was hit by its worst COVID-19 outbreak to date, with more than 80% of its 144,976 cases and 954 deaths occurring in the past two months, due to of the highly transmissible variant B.1.1.7 first detected in Great Britain.

Just over one million of the over 66 million Thais are fully vaccinated.

The announcement in the official Royal Gazette cast doubt on some members of the government, who had so far insisted on being the sole importer of COVID-19 vaccines.

Nithi said other organizations could buy the academy’s million doses of Sinopharm, adding that they were not looking for a profit.

The Federation of Thai Industries and energy company PTT Group Pcl have expressed interest as potential buyers and the academy would continue to negotiate more doses after June depending on demand, Nithi said. (Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)

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