Thailand Develops Robotic System To Make More Vaccine Doses

Covid-19 had been kept largely under control in Thailand for much of the pandemic; however, since April, more cases and deaths from virulent variants like Delta have been soaring.  This has increased pressure on authorities to increase the speed of vaccinations.

Struggling with its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, researchers in Thailand have now successfully developed a machine, AutoVacc, for squeezing out Covid-19 vaccine doses more efficiently and optimize lower-than-expected supplies.

According to researchers at Chulalongkorn University, who made the machine, the automatic system uses a robotic arm to draw 12 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in four minutes from a vial. The machine has been used at the university’s vaccination center.

The dose that is coming out of this machine is up 20% from the standard 10 doses drawn manually. The machine currently works on AstraZeneca multi-dose vials only and according to the labels, each vial can provide 10 to 11 doses.

“The machine guarantees with accuracy that we can gain an extra 20 percent from each vaccine vial – from 10 to 12 doses. The extra 20 percent that we get means that if we have AstraZeneca for 1 million people, this machine can increase the number of doses to 1.2 million people,” said Juthamas Ratanavaraporn, the lead researcher of the team at the university’s Biomedical Engineering Research Center.

“While some health workers using low dead space syringes (LDSS) that aim to reduce wastage can draw up to 12 doses per vial, it requires manpower and a high level of skills. This could drain a lot of the health workers’ energy. They would have to do this every day for many months”, she added further.

The research team says, “We should be able to produce 20 more AutoVacc units within three or four months, but that government funds and support would be needed to expand across the country.”

Talking bout the associated costs for the development of this machine, Juthamas said, “The prototype machine costs 2.5 million baht ($76,243), including other materials like syringes.” She also revealed that they are open to export it but that is something for the future.

Revealing more about their plans, the lead researcher said, “We are also planning to make similar machines to use with the Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N) and Moderna (MRNA.O) vaccines.”

Juthamas said that the machine was aimed at removing burdens on health workers. She quoted, “When the health workers are too tired, there are also chances of human error, so we should let the machines work on this.”

Thailand has reported around 1.1 million Covid-19 infections and 10,085 deaths in total. Around 9% of Thailand’s population of more than 66 million have been fully vaccinated so far. The process got hindered by lower-than-anticipated vaccine supplies.

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