Thai COVID-19 vaccine rollout will go ahead on time - minister

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Thai health minister Anutin Charnvirakul attends a meeting to address the measures against coronavirus in Bangkok, Thailand February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

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BANGKOK, June 1 (Reuters) - Thailand's health minister on Tuesday sought to reassure the public that a mass-immunisation programme would start as planned next week, amid anxiety over vaccine supplies and no relent in its deadliest COVID-19 outbreak yet.

Thailand is struggling to contain its current, most severe outbreak and authorities have been scrambling to secure vaccines from more manufacturers, accompanied by mixed messages about how the mass vaccinations will be carried out.

"On June 7 there will be vaccine for everyone, those that already have appointments for the vaccine will get it as scheduled," Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.

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Thailand has 6 million doses of AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) vaccine available, among 61 million doses ordered, which are to be manufactured locally by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand's king.

A Philippine presidential adviser on Tuesday said he had been informed by AstraZenca that its first batches of a promised 17 million doses has been held up by several weeks due to delays in Thai production. read more

Thailand's government has made no mention of delays and AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Anutin did not specify the source of the 6 million AstraZeneca doses. The government had earlier said there would be 3 million doses of Sinovac (SVA.O) vaccines available for the public in June.

So far, only 2.5 million of the more than 66 million population have received at least one dose of a vaccine, mostly Sinovac's (SVA.O).

Thailand's mass-vaccination strategy had been widely criticused for relying heavily on AstraZeneca and for a chaotic lead-up to the rollout.

Authorities recently said they would extend gaps between doses to expedite vaccinations and prioritise the capital Bangkok and surrounding provinces, raising concern about wider availability. read more

The government has previously said it would order 20 million doses of the Pfizer (PFE.N)/BioNTech (22UAy.DE) vaccine.

Anutin on Tuesday said he was talking to Pfizer and Thailand could also order five million doses of Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ.N) vaccine for the fourth quarter of this year.

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Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty

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