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A vaccination center set up at the Central Eastville shopping center in Bangkok.
A vaccination center set up at the Central Eastville shopping center in Bangkok. (Luke Duggleby/Bloomberg)

Thailand is weighing a temporary suspension of exports of locally made AstraZeneca vaccines to bolster domestic supplies amid a surge in coronavirus infections driven by the more contagious delta variant.

The country's key vaccination panel will hold discussions with all the stakeholders before deciding on either a temporary halt to shipments, or regulating exports, Nakorn Premsri, director of Thailand's National Vaccine Institute, told a news briefing on Wednesday. Talks are focused on addressing the Thai vaccine supply amid the outbreak, he said.

AstraZeneca planned to produce 180 million doses of its COVID vaccine this year through its partner Siam Bioscience, with a target to export two-thirds of the output to countries in Southeast Asia. While Thailand was expected to receive a third of the production at any given period of time under an earlier agreement, that may need to change given the current outbreak situation, Nakorn said.

The move by Thai health officials is expected to affect shipments of AstraZeneca shots to countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines, where the deliveries were earlier delayed. Vaccines from AstraZeneca, along with Sinovac Biotech, are the backbone of Thailand's inoculation program, which has been 50% behind its target since the mass rollout began last month due to limited supplies.

Bangkok-based Siam Bioscience, which has links to the Thai monarchy, is AstraZeneca's sole COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing partner in Southeast Asia, a region where the inoculation rate has trailed developed nations amid a flareup in infections.

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