| 19 May 2024, Sunday |

Thailand develops robotic system to squeeze out more vaccine doses

Thailand’s experts have created a machine to more efficiently draw out COVID-19 vaccination doses and optimize lower-than-expected supplies as the country grapples with its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet.

According to researchers at Chulalongkorn University, the “AutoVacc” device can pull 12 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a vial in four minutes using a robotic arm. The gadget has been in operation at the university’s immunization center since Monday.

They claim this is a 20 percent increase over the typical 10 dosages drawn manually. Currently, the machine only works with AstraZeneca multi-dose vials, and the labels indicate that each vial can deliver 10 to 11 doses.

“With the machine, we can get an extra 20% out of each vaccination vial – from 10 to 12 doses,” said Juthamas Ratanavaraporn, the team’s main researcher at the university’s Biomedical Engineering Research Center. “With the additional 20%, if we have AstraZeneca for 1 million people, this machine may boost the amount of dosages to 1.2 million individuals,” Juthamas explained.

“This could drain a lot of the health workers’ energy. They would have to do this every day for many months,” Juthamas said.

Thailand had kept COVID-19 largely under control for much of the pandemic, but more virulent variants like Delta have sent cases and deaths soaring since April, ramping up pressure on authorities to increase the pace of vaccinations.

So far, only about 9% of Thailand’s 66 million people have been properly vaccinated, with the deployment hampered by lower-than-expected vaccine supplies.

The researchers estimate that they will be able to construct 20 more AutoVacc units in three to four months, but that they will require government funding and support to expand across the country.

According to Juthamas, the prototype machine costs 2.5 million baht ($76,243), which includes additional supplies such as syringes. He added that while they were open to export potential, that was something for the future.

They also plan to make similar machines to use with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, she added.

The machine, according to Juthamas, is designed to relieve health-care staff of their responsibilities. Thailand has reported 1.1 million COVID-19 infections and 10,085 deaths, putting the country’s health system on the verge of collapse.

“When health staff are overworked, there is a risk of human error, therefore we should let the machines do it,” she explained.

  • Reuters