Taiwan begins rollout of its own vaccine. Will it prove successful?

President Tsai Ing-wen recieving firs dose of taiwanese vaccine

President Tsai Ing-wen recieving firs dose of taiwanese vaccine / Photo via Facebook [Tsai Ing-wen]

Taiwan began vaccinating its population with its own vaccine, produced by Medigen Vaccine Biologic Corp. Among those injected first was the country’s president. Having largely avoided the first two waves of the pandemic, the country experienced a surge of infections during the third wave.

 

 

As reported by Reuters, the vaccine was developed in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health in the United States. Taiwan, which has more than 23 million citizens, has ordered 5 million doses of the new jab. So far, 700,000 citizens have expressed interest in the Medigen vaccine.

One of the first people vaccinated was the country’s president Tsai Ing-wen. Her receiving the jab was broadcasted via her Facebook profile. “It doesn’t hurt, I’m in a good mood and I’m going to continue working throughout the day”, the president stated after receiving the injection.

Medigen Vaccine Biologic Corp is one of two companies, along with United Biomedical, that have signed contrasts with the Taiwanese government in recent months. Until now, however, only Medigen has been approved for use in an emergency.

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Controversy over the homegrown product

Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration approved the specific in July based on a controversial standard – it involves estimating antibody levels in people who have received the vaccine. The Taiwanese vaccine has not yet fully completed clinical trails, and thus there is no data available on its effectiveness.

Still, the government claims that the antibodies produced by the formulation are „not worse” than those produced by the AstraZeneca vaccine. The experts also argued that in patients who participated in the second phase of the tests seroconvention was around 95.5 perc. The latest round of testing is expected to take place in Paraguay later this year.

Strong opposition to the Medigen vaccine is heard from Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT). Its representatives say the vaccine has been approved for use too early, which could pose a threat to the health and lives of citizens. Two leading KMT activists have asked a Taipei court to revoke the emergency use permit. One of them said there was no need for Taiwanese to be treated like „white rats in a laboratory.”

Yet another problem is disinformation about the vaccine. Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University, stressed that Taiwan is facing the pandemic, but also a „political virus” caused by „persistent disinformation attacks that spread like a virus.” Some Taiwanese are concerned that it will be harder for them to travel abroad after receiving Medigen.

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How Taiwan managed to almost avoid two first COVID waves

For the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic, the island remained mostly free of COVID-19. This was largely thanks to well-prepared system for monitoring outbreaks and a stockpile of masks, protective outfits and gloves, as well as disinfectants.

Once the pandemic broke out, exports of medical equipment were banned, and production of other elementary hygiene products was increased. At its peak, Taiwan was expected to produce as many as 20 million masks a day.

It was also advanced technology that helped to combat the pandemic on the island – algorithms made it possible to monitor which pharmacies had masks available, or at which point more citizens gathered so as to be able to impose spot restrictions. All this contributed to the fact that by the end of 2020 only 7 people had died from coronavirus in Taiwan.

The situation changed in the first months of 2021. In May, the Alpha variant reached Taiwan, while the country faced a severe shortage of vaccines. The jabs were mostly obtained through donations from the US, Japan and Lithuania. Taiwan also received 600,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses under the COVAX program. By now, more than 9 million Taiwanese citizens received at least dose, which is about 39 percent of the country’s population. Only 770,000 have been fully vaccinated.

In late July, the government decided phase out some restrictions. Yet, those concerning foreign visitors have not been lifted – only citizens, residents and people with special humanitarian visas are allowed into the country. In addition, everyone entering must undergo a 15-day quarantine. These measures are to remain in place until at least 60 percent of citizens are vaccinated.

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Ten projekt jest współfinansowany przez program Unii Europejskiej w dziedzinie zdrowia (2014-2020) /  This project is co-funded by the European Union’s Health Programme 2014-2020.