Thailand starts COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Arrival of a shipment of 200,000 doses of the Sinovac coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport
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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand kicked off its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Sunday, with cabinet ministers, health officials and medical professionals among the first in the queue to receive vaccinations.

The first doses of vaccine, developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, were given to Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also the health minister, among others at an infectious diseases institute on the outskirts of Bangkok.

"I hope that the vaccination will result in people being safe from the spread of COVID-19 and it allows Thailand to return to normalcy as soon as possible," Anutin told reporters afterwards.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, 66, attended the event, although his age falls outside the range of 18 to 59 suitable to receive SinoVac's CoronaVac vaccine, so he did not get it.

Thailand received its first 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China and 117,00 imported doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine this week.

CoronaVac has been distributed to 13 high-risk provinces, which will start injecting front-line health professionals and volunteers on Sunday, the health ministry has said.

AstraZeneca's vaccine will be ready for use by the second week of March, after going through quality control tests, the company said in a statement.

Thailand is expected to take delivery of a further 1.8 million doses of CoronaVac in March and April.

A mass campaign to administer 10 million doses a month is set to begin in June, with 61 million shots of AstraZeneca vaccines produced by local firm Siam Bioscience.

With a tally of just over 25,000 infections, Thailand has escaped the kind of fallout suffered by some other countries since the pandemic began last year.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)