Covid-19 vaccine developed in Thailand begins human trials

Thailand began human trials of a nationally-developed coronavirus vaccine on Monday and plans to roll it out next year, which its health minister says could give the country more freedom with its vaccination policy.

Thailand’s vaccination campaign aims to inoculate half of its adult population by the end of the year using 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be produced locally from June.

The local vaccine candidate is developed by state drug maker, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), with the Department of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University and a US non-profit organization and uses an inactivated virus to trigger immunity.

“The vaccine, produced by Thais for Thais, should be used next year,” Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, chairman of the board of Mahidol University, told a press conference.

Thailand’s progress comes as countries like Japan and Taiwan accelerate their national vaccine development programs amid tight global supply and concerns about new variants of Covid-19.

Vietnam said last week that its locally developed vaccine would be available in the fourth quarter of this year.

Mahidol University Dean Bangjong Mahaisavariya said 460 volunteers would be accepted for human trials, of which 210 would be used in the first phase. The second phase is expected to begin in July, with results by the end of the year.

The Thai vaccine candidate modifies the avian Newcastle disease virus with a cutting edge Covid-19 protein and is replicated using egg-based technology, the GPO said.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the vaccine would give Thailand more options with fewer constraints.

“Even if we can produce vaccines in the country, it is from technology transfer and under brand management,” he said at the press conference.

“But today, if we are successful, we can set our own direction.”

Another local vaccine is being developed by Chulalongkorn University and uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Human trials are expected to begin soon.