(Recasts with protest over private sector vaccine procurement)
BANGKOK, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Thai tourism operators and hospitals said on Wednesday they planned to lodge a protest against a government move to curb private imports of COVID-19 vaccines, marking an apparent turnaround in policy by authorities.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had previously said the private sector could import vaccines as long as they were approved by and registered with the Thai Food and Drug Administration.
But this week, businesses were notified that only the government could import and administer the vaccine in the “first phase” of inoculations, citing the need to closely follow up with patients on side-effects.
“We are lodging a protest against this through the private hospital and tourism associations,” Boon Vanasin, the chairman of private hospital operator, Thonburi Healthcare Group Pcl , told Reuters, urging the government not to monopolize vaccinations.
His group has already made orders with Russia, China and India.
Thailand so far has not received or manufactured any vaccines, even as many of its neighbours have started inoculations.
It is expecting 50,000 imported doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and 2 million of Chinese Sinovac to begin arriving within a month, earmarked for frontline workers.
Mass inoculations for the population of about 66 million are not due to begin until June when locally produced AstraZeneca doses are ready.
Another vaccine being developed by state drugmaker Government Pharmaceutical Organization will begin human trials in March.
Businesses on the resort island of Phuket had said they would privately procure vaccines with a goal to resume receiving foreign tourists in October.
Phuket industry groups said they received a notification dated Feb. 8 that the government’s ombudsman recommended restricting private sector participation in the first phase and had written to the prime minister seeking clarification.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters there was no policy to block private procurement but authorities had to consider the ombudsman’s recommendation.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul denied the government is creating a vaccine monopoly in a news briefing on Wednesday. (Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Ed Davies)