The island of 23 million people had recorded almost zero local infections for months and demand for the vaccine was so low that only 1% of the population was vaccinated.
But in this pandemic, things can change quickly. Today, Taiwan is grappling with its worst outbreak yet, reporting more than 1,000 new cases last week, and has a population that wants the vaccine – but can’t get it.
But in theory, there could be a solution for Taiwan right on its doorstep: Chinese vaccines.
Taipei doesn’t see it that way and has accused Beijing of blocking its supply, rather than trying to boost it.
Presidential Office spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said on Twitter on Wednesday: “Taiwan’s access to vaccines continues to be slowed down by Chinese interference, as they insist that we buy vaccines made in China. China. If you really want to help, don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block the room. “
But as the war of words over vaccines rages on, the reality is that Taiwan’s slow vaccine rollout goes far beyond geopolitical tensions with China.
Taiwan has ordered 20 million doses of the vaccine – enough to fully immunize 43% of its population. But, so far, only about 700,000 doses have arrived, and all of them are manufactured by AstraZeneca.
According to the island’s official Central News Agency (CNA), Taiwan signed an agreement with AstraZeneca last year to purchase 10 million doses of its vaccine. In March, 117,000 doses were finally shipped from a South Korean factory, becoming the first vaccines to arrive on the island.
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, said demand for vaccines in Taiwan was initially low as she focused on helping diplomatic allies in Taipei obtain vaccines. But now she’s working to make sure Taiwan’s orders are delivered on time, according to CNA.
In mid-April, he allowed people not on the government’s priority list to get vaccinated at a cost of 600 New Taiwan dollars. ($ 21) per shot.
“In the past 1.5 years, Taiwan has not experienced a major epidemic, so many residents did not feel in immediate danger,” said Chen Hsiu-hsi, professor of epidemiology at the National Taiwan University. “This is why few people were encouraged to take Covid-19 vaccines.”
But the spike in cases this month has raised alarms, prompting some residents to rush to get vaccinated. Before the arrival of the last batch of COVAX on Wednesday, Taiwan had used up two-thirds of its 300,000-dose vaccine supply.
As supplies run out, the Taiwanese government has suspended program, reserving any remaining doses for frontline workers, according to CNA.
Chen Hsiu-hsi, the epidemiologist, said about 30% of medical workers in Taiwan have now been vaccinated. He hopes that number will reach 50% with the 400,000 newly arrived doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Develop your own vaccines
When it comes to developing its own Covid-19 vaccine, Taiwan has lagged behind the efforts of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China and Russia.
President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday that two Taiwanese vaccine candidates have reached the end of stage 2 clinical trials.
According to Tsai, the two vaccines developed by Taiwanese companies, Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation and United Biomedical, are expected to be available by the end of July, if they are granted emergency use authorization next month.
Chen, the epidemiologist, said he was optimistic about vaccines being developed in Taiwan. “They have reported good results in stage 2 clinical trials, and it appears that they respond well to different variants in the lab as well.”
Until then, Chen said, Taiwan will have to rely on foreign vaccines to cope with the crisis – but not those from its nearest neighbor with the largest supply.
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