Short on vaccines, Thailand seeks to borrow from Bhutan

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BANGKOK, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Thailand, a regional manufacturer of AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) coronavirus shots, is seeking to borrow 150,000 doses of the same vaccine from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, an official said on Monday, amid a Thai supply shortage.

Thailand has been racing to boost its stocks after being hit by its worst wave of coronavirus infections, just two months before it started its mass immunisation drive in June.

The request to tap vaccines from Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people, reflects efforts to plug gaps in Thailand's chaotic vaccine rollout, after AstraZeneca said it could supply the country with about five to six million monthly doses, about half of what the government had targeted.

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Thailand produces AstraZeneca's vaccine for regional distribution but has managed to fully inoculate just 7.1% of its population so far, with new daily infections projected to double next month.

By contrast, Bhutan started its vaccinations in March and has administered over 1 million doses, a number sufficient to have immunised about two-thirds of its population. It has recorded less than 3,000 cases and just three deaths.

"The vaccine swap arrangement between Bhutan and Thailand ... is on basis that Thailand will send back vaccines to Bhutan later on," said Natapanu Nopakun, a foreign ministry spokesperson.

"At the moment, the agreement is being reviewed and considered by the government."

Bhutan's embassy in Bangkok did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Thailand reported 21,157 new infections on Monday bringing the total to 928,314. There were 182 new deaths, among 7,734 fatalities overall.

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Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty

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