Pfizer in Thailand

CLAIM: Thailand is canceling its COVID-19 vaccine contract with Pfizer after its princess fell into a coma following a booster shot.

THE ASSESSMENT BY NEWS AGENCY ASSOCIATED PRESS: False. There are no plans to alter Thailand’s contract with the New York-based pharmaceutical giant, an official with the country’s National Vaccine Institute said. Thailand’s Department of Disease Control also rejected the claims as “fake news.” The condition of Princess Bajrakitiyabha was attributed to an irregular heartbeat caused by a mycoplasma infection, and medical experts confirmed the infection is not known to be a side effect of COVID vaccines.

THE FACTS: As concerns about the health of the princess mount following her December collapse, social media users are falsely claiming the Southeast Asian kingdom is taking drastic measures against a suspected culprit: Pfizer, one of the primary makers of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

“Thailand princess has been in a coma for about 3 weeks after getting a booster,” wrote one Twitter user in a post that’s been liked or shared roughly 28,000 times as of Tuesday. “The Royal family has discovered Pfizer has lied & it’s looking like they will tear up their contract & demand billions back. This could be the start of Pfizer’s demise.”

Many of the users link to comments recently made in an online interview by Sucharit Bhakdi, a retired microbiology professor and vocal opponent of COVID vaccines.

The former professor at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany, whose parents were originally from Thailand, claims in the roughly 45-minute interview that top Thai officials are considering nullifying the Pfizer contract after hearing out his concerns about the inoculations.

But the Thai government has disputed claims that its stance on COVID vaccines has changed.

“FAKE NEWS DO NOT SHARE!” Thailand’s Department of Disease Control wrote in Thai in a Feb. 3 Facebook post that includes a screenshot of the interview by Bhakdi, along with a version of the false claim. “The public is requested not to be fooled and ask for cooperation not to send, or share such information on various social media channels.”

An official with Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute, which is under the Ministry of Public Health, also confirmed to The Associated Press there are no plans to revisit the country’s contract with Pfizer — or any other COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer already under agreement.

The official, who declined to be named citing his agency’s information policy, said Tuesday that the vaccine is safe and still recommended for the general public. Thailand is also evaluating Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine booster, but there are no plans yet to stop ordering the current vaccine in order to bring in a new one, he added.

“There are no orders to stop or slow down usage or reconsider its use,” the official said. “We are still moving forward and using it.”

Pfizer, in a statement, noted that Thailand’s disease control agency continues to recommend its vaccine “for all authorized ages and indications.”

Bhakdi, for his part, acknowledged that some of the claims circulating online are an “exaggeration.” But he maintains his concerns are being seriously considered.

“I did speak with highest-ranking advisors to the government and Royal Family, thereby explaining why Thailand could and should annul the Pfizer purchase contract,” he wrote in an email Monday. “No more, no less. And they seemed to be convinced. Nothing has happened due to internal counter-movements. We are renewing our efforts, however, and with luck there will be things to report in about 2 weeks.”

Spokespersons for the Thai royal family didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week on the condition of the 44-year-old princess, who is the king’s eldest daughter and a potential heir to the throne.

In a Jan. 7 statement, the royal palace said Bajrakitiyabha remained unconscious and on life support after falling into a coma while training dogs for an army exhibition.

The statement attributed her collapse to an irregular heartbeat caused by a mycoplasma infection, a bacterial illness usually associated with pneumonia. The palace, in a prior statement, also said she suffered a brain aneurysm.

Daniel Kuritzkes, a Harvard Medical School professor and chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said mycoplasma infections have so far not been found to be associated with COVID-19 vaccinations.

Stuart Ray, an assistant dean for research at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, concurred.

“Such an association would be surprising given how the vaccine works,” he wrote in an email. “A bacterial infection like mycoplasma would be a separate event.”

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Associated Press reporter Kaweewit Kaewjinda in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Matt Owens Rees, for his part, is also fact-checking before posting.

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