First batch of U.S. donated Pfizer vaccines arrives in Thailand

BANGKOK, July 30 (Reuters) - Thailand received its first batch of 1.5 million doses of Pfizer PFE.N COVID-19 vaccines donated by the U.S. government on Friday, as the Southeast Asian country battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak to date.

Since April, Thailand has been tackling a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, pushing hospitals in the capital Bangkok to the brink. The country's COVID-19 task force reported 17,345 new cases and 117 new deaths on Friday,

"Our government noticed how quickly the Delta variant has been spreading in this country and the severe conditions that are being faced right now by your health workers," U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Michael Heath told a news conference.

The United States will send another one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in addition to the batch that was received on Friday, he added.

Thailand's vaccine drive has so far depended on Sinovac SVA.O and AstraZeneca AZN.L vaccines and faced delays since it began last month. Just 5.6% of the country's 66 million population been fully vaccinated so far.

Thailand manufacturers the AstraZeneca vaccine under license locally, but production has been much smaller than government expectations, contributing to a delay in the domestic inoculation rollout.

The country has received a donation of one million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China and one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Japan. Britain has also pledged 415,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, due to arrive next month.

The first batch of vaccines donated by the United States will be used to inoculate high risk groups or as a "booster" third shot for frontline medical workers, deputy Thai government spokeswoman Traisulee Traisaranakul said in a statement.
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by James Pearson

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