Taiwan has gained international acclaim for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but although the coronavirus has been all but defeated on the island, some legislators are worried about a slower than expected rollout of vaccines.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung admitted on March 29 the country’s vaccination program has thus far been on the slow side and could be expanded to include more priority groups.
Taiwan last week began administering a batch of 117,000 AstraZeneca vaccines. The vaccines have been limited to frontline healthcare workers at hospitals with active COVID-19 cases, along with athletes who have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Only 9,377 vaccines were administered in the first week of Taiwan’s program, which Chen said may have been due to overseas media reports of possible side effects to AstraZeneca jabs. At present, only the AstraZeneca vaccine is available in Taiwan.
Chen said in February that Taiwan had been close to securing 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last year, only for the deal to fall through due to what he called “intervention from outside forces.” BioNTech then said it was still planning to sell vaccines to Taiwan.
The Chinese company Fosun International Ltd., which has a deal with BioNTech to supply the vaccine in “Greater China,” said on April 1 it was willing to supply Taiwan, but did not elaborate. Taiwan’s government maintained it was speaking directly to BioNTech, not to Fosun.
Chen earlier this week said issues in the global supply chain could threaten an expedient deal with BioNTech, making it unlikely a contract would be signed.
Taiwan is making progress in developing its own vaccines. A jab produced by the biopharma company Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation is undergoing a second-stage clinical trial and could be available as early as July.
Taiwan has secured a total of about 20 million doses, including 10 million AstraZeneca jabs, 5.05 million Moderna doses and 4.76 million from the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative.
Officials are also considering relaxing quarantine requirements for incoming travelers who have received the vaccine, a process that would occur in two phases.
The first phase could allow travelers to quarantine for seven days, rather than 14, and would include travelers who have been inoculated with Chinese vaccines. This would require travelers to first test negative for COVID-19.