BANGKOK (Reuters) - AstraZeneca has asked Thailand to extend the timeline for the delivery of 61 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by five months, a deputy minister said on Thursday, a move likely to disrupt further the country's sluggish vaccine rollout.
Deputy Health Minister Sathit Pitutacha said AstraZeneca currently had the capacity to produce 15 million doses of vaccine per month at its production facility in Thailand and that capacity could expand in the future.
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sathit's statement made during an interview on the MCOT television station.
But the company seeking to delay delivery points to a slow production ramp-up at its local manufacturing partner, which had initial production and delivery issues, even as AstraZeneca reassured it would be back on track from this month to meet its supply commitments to Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations.
AstraZeneca had promised to deliver 40% of what is produced to Thailand, Sathit said, adding that Thailand will ask the company for more doses.
"We must negotiate with them, because in this situation we need more vaccine," Sathit said.
"We want 10 million doses because the original plan was 10 million doses," he said referring to the previous monthly delivery target.
Thailand on Wednesday said it was considering imposing limits on exports of locally manufactured AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to fight its own outbreak.
Responding to a request for comment on the proposal to restrict exports, AstraZeneca said on Wednesday its Thai-manufactured vaccine "is of critical importance" to neighbouring countries where the pandemic is also accelerating.
"We are actively working with the government in Thailand and governments across Southeast Asia to continue to deliver equitable vaccine access to the region," the statement said.
Thailand is suffering its worst CVOID-19 outbreak yet and reported a record 98 coronavirus deaths on Thursday taking total fatalities to 3,032 since the pandemic began last year.
The country's COVID-19 taskforce also reported 9,186 new coronavirus cases, bringing total infections to 372,215.
Thailand's main vaccine rollout started last month and only about 5% of its more than 66 million people have been fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Ed Davies)