Thailand to begin COVID-19 vaccine trials in four months

Thailand has joined the global race to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infections, and public health officials said last week they plan to begin testing a potential vaccine on 10,000 Thai people sometime during the next four months.

Department of Disease Control chief Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said the National Vaccine Institute is preparing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with yet-to-be-named Chinese pharmaceutical companies to test a COVID-19 vaccine in Thailand.

“We are going to consider possible candidates to work with. It must be done based on what the benefits for the country are, including obtaining the actual vaccine quickly and technology transfer,” Suwannachai said.

He cautioned, however, that if the trials prove successful, a vaccine would not be available to the general public until some time next year.

Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul said the government had allocated nearly $1.4 billion for the fight against COVID-19, including vaccine development. Anutin said the government’s top priority is to make a vaccine available quickly.

Thailand has had experience in successfully conducting large and complex vaccine trials.

From 2003 through 2006, Thailand conducted Phase III trials of a vaccine to prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. That trial had over 16,000 participants.

“At the time back then, there was some … controversy in the scientific community about whether one should make the investment in a large, 16,000-person clinical trial,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S., and one of the world’s leading AIDS researchers. He is now at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the vaccine showed only modest efficacy in preventing HIV, global health specialists praised Thailand’s performance in carrying out the large trial over three years that involved closely monitoring so many people. And the vaccine was the first to show any efficacy at all, leading other researchers to call it a watershed when the results were published in 2009.

“As an HIV vaccine researcher, I remember exactly where I was. It’s like when you landed on the moon, because it was really transformative,” said Sandhya Vasan, MD, Director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.

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