Royal academy seeks 1 mln vaccines as Thailand approves Sinopharm

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A signage of Sinopharm is seen at the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), following the COVID-19 outbreak, in Beijing, China September 5, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

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BANGKOK, May 28 (Reuters) - A royal academy chaired by Princess Chulabhorn, the youngest sibling of Thailand's king, on Friday said it would import 1 million doses of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine next month, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised its use.

"We want to help plug in the gaps for business, schools, so they can move forward," Nithi Mahanonda, secretary-general of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy told a news briefing.

Earlier this week, the academy announced it would import "alternative vaccines" to supplement the government campaign. read more

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The government's chaotic and widely criticised mass vaccinations programme is due to start next month, using mainly AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccines made locally by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The government says it will have 6 million AstraZenaca doses and 3 million Sinovac (SVA.O) doses available in June.

The FDA on Friday approved the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, making it the fifth authorised by Thailand after AstraZenaca, Sinovac's CoronaVac, Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ.N) Janssen and Moderna (MRNA.O)

The royal academy procurement comes after Thailand was hit by its worst COVID-19 outbreak so far, with over 80% of its 144,976 cases and 954 deaths occurring in the past two months, driven by the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first detected in Britain.

Just a over 1 million of Thailand's more than 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

The announcement in the official Royal Gazette susprised some members of the government, which had until now insisted on being the sole importer of COVID-19 vaccines.

Nithi said other organisations would be able to buy from the academy's 1 million Sinopharm doses, adding that it did not seek profit.

The Federation of Thai Industries and the energy firm PTT Group Pcl (PTT.BK) have shown interest as potential buyers and the academy would continue to negotiate for more doses after June based on demand, Nithi said.

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Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng Editing by Ed Davies

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