Taiwan to start contested roll out of first domestic Covid-19 shot

TAIPEI (REUTERS) – Taiwan will on Monday (Aug 23) begin administering its first domestically-developed Covid-19 vaccine with President Tsai Ing-wen leading the way in getting the shot, as the government casts aside objections they have rushed the approval process.

The government last month approved the emergency use of Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s Covid-19 vaccine, part of a broader plan for inoculation self-sufficiency as delays in vaccine deliveries from global drug companies have affected Taiwan and many other countries.

More than 700,000 people have signed up so far to receive the Medigen vaccine. To demonstrate her confidence in the shot and prove it is safe, Ms Tsai has held off on using vaccines from Moderna Inc or AstraZeneca Plc, the current mainstay of Taiwan’s vaccination programme.

Medigen, whose Chinese name literally means “high-end”, rejects claims its vaccine is either unsafe or that it has been sent to market with undue haste, saying it is effective and well tested.

“We have done so many experiments, everyone has seen how safe our vaccine is. There are so few side effects, almost no fever and so on. So I think everyone can rest assured,” Medigen’s Chief Executive Officer Charles Chen told Reuters.

“We already have provided so much data, that data has already proven both from a scientific and a comparative point of view that there is a very good production of antibodies, so we can project that there will be a very good efficacy.”

The recombinant protein vaccine has been developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the United States, and the government has ordered an initial 5 million doses. It says nobody will be forced to get it.

But Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, has mounted a fierce campaign against the shot, with one of its former vice chairmen, Hau Lung-bin, filing a lawsuit to invalidate Medigen’s authorisation, though a court rejected that last week.

The party says its supports domestic vaccines, but that Medigen’s approval has been rushed.

“There is no need for the lives and health of the Taiwanese people to serve as white rats in a laboratory,” Ho Chih-yung, deputy head of the KMT’s international department, told Reuters.

Around 40 per cent of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one shot of either of the two-dose AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine, though fewer than 5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

However, unlike some other parts of Asia, Taiwan faces no huge pressure to accelerate its vaccination drive, as it is recording only a handful of domestic infections a day, having brought the pandemic well under control.

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