How Is Taiwan’s First Domestic Vaccine Being Received?

How Is Taiwan’s First Domestic Vaccine Being Received?
Photo Credit: CNA

What you need to know

Many young people joked about being part of the DPP’s “internet army,” who are paid by a party to praise its policies, by announcing their decision to receive the Medigen vaccine.

Young people in Taiwan were rushing to register for local vaccine maker Medigen’s Covid-19 vaccine, following the government’s decision on Wednesday to expand eligibility to people aged 20 to 35.

Taiwan has been developing its own vaccines against the coronavirus since last summer. On Monday, the government started allowing residents aged 36 and above to schedule an appointment for the first Taiwanese-developed vaccine, which has recently been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Taiwanese citizens had the option of taking the AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines before the first batch of Medigen’s vaccines became available. But an indication of support for the domestic shot came on Monday morning, when the registration system crashed in two minutes after at least 42,000 logged in for appointments.

The Central Epidemic Command Center announced two days later that registration for the unreserved doses will also be open to people aged 20 to 35. Within an hour of the announcement, more than 25% eligible for the doses crowded into the system. Many young people in the group took to social media to declare their decision to receive the domestic vaccine, including Huang Jie, an independent city council member of Kaohsiung.

Huang, 28, posted a screenshot on Facebook showing completion of registration for vaccination. “It’s finally my turn!” she said, adding three party face emojis at the end of the sentence.

Taiwan prioritized inoculations to certain groups of people, including medical workers, law enforcement officers, and patients with preexisting conditions, before making them free and available to all.

Embroiled in party politics

In a Facebook post, President Tsai Ing-wen encouraged residents aged 20 to 35 to register for the locally-developed vaccine by Friday, when the new round of registration ended. She had signed up for the vaccine and said she will receive the shot next Monday.

“Those who are eligible for the vaccine, please take the time to make an appointment,” Tsai said, “to boost Taiwan’s immunization effort with me!”

But Medigen’s Covid-19 vaccine, which was approved by the FDA for emergency use before finishing phase III clinical trials, has been at the center of controversy since May, when Taiwan’s government signed a deal with the vaccine maker for five million doses.

Critics and experts have questioned the safety and efficacy of the local vaccine, though the FDA said it elicits antibodies “no worse than” the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first foreign vaccine approved for use in Taiwan.

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Photo Credit: CNA
Taiwanese biopharma company Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation (MVC) held a press conference to announce the completion of their Phase II Trial, March 30, 2021.

As lawmakers of the governing Democratic Progressive Party announced their decision to receive the domestic shot, the opposition Kuomintang accused the government of lining their pockets by promoting Medigen’s product, after alleging that President Tsai attempted to speculate in the stock market by signing the deal with the Taiwanese firm.

Former vice chairman of the KMT Hau Lung-bin appealed to a court in Taipei against the FDA’s approval for the Medigen vaccine earlier this month. “The ministry of health and welfare has put the people’s lives in danger,” he said before filing the case. “I strongly disapproved of the decision.”

But lawyers have described his move to be “politically motivated” and pointed out he lacked standing to challenge the decision. The Taipei court dismissed the appeal on Friday based on the same reason.

“Internet army”

Many young people joked about being part of the DPP’s “internet army,” who are paid by a party to praise its policies, by announcing their decision to receive the Medigen vaccine. But Andy Chou, a graduate school student, said in a Facebook post he has faith in the government’s decision to roll out the vaccine.

“Instead of listening to what the media says, we should believe what we have felt about the government’s response to Covid-19 in the past two years,” he said. “I think no vaccine is perfect...if the vaccine has been approved, then believe the government.”

Chou, 26, said the widespread skepticism for the AstraZeneca vaccine, fueled by Taiwanese media, deterred him from the self-paid vaccinations in May, when the government offered residents the option to get vaccinated before they were eligible for state-funded inoculations.

Others cited the possibility of fewer side effects as the reason to jump at the opportunity to be vaccinated. Chien-chang Lee, a Harvard-trained epidemiologist and doctor of emergency medicine, recommended that the elderly, who might be more concerned about strong immune responses to Covid-19 vaccines, choose the Medigen over the AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines.

For young people, “it is also reasonable to get the domestic vaccine now if they are not yet in line for inoculations, or will be in close contact with many people at work,” Lee added.

Anan Lin, a speech and language therapist who had been fully vaccinated, said she would be willing to receive the domestic vaccine which promises fewer side effects, but recognized that she would also “wait and see how the first group reacted.”

Becoming “orphans” again?

The safety of Medigen’s vaccine, which is based on technologies different from those of internationally-approved vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca or Moderna shots, has been called into question. Among Taiwanese, another concern is that proof of having received internationally-approved shots, or a vaccine passport, could be required to travel to other countries in the future.

As some countries, including France, made proof of vaccination mandatory for indoor dining, Sandy Chiang, 25, had worried that the measure could apply to travelers crossing international borders before she registered for the Medigen vaccine.

“I was concerned if we would become ‘orphans’ again,” referring to Taiwan’s status of isolation from the international community, “but I did some research and found that most countries don’t ask travelers for the documentation,” the graduate school student told The News Lens.

The Central Epidemic Command Center said Wednesday the countries to which Taiwanese citizens travel most frequently currently do not require any documents or accept negative test results on arrival, based on a list of countries and their rules for international travelers.

Despite the lack of full approval of the domestic vaccine, Chiang decided to be vaccinated, adding that “a high vaccination rate is the key to returning to normal life.”

Miao Po-ya, Taipei city councilor of the Social Democratic Party, also made an appointment for Medigen’s vaccine, saying that everyone should take any vaccine “when it’s their turn.”

Miao, 33, said she “finally had the opportunity to schedule an appointment for inoculation being a person without any special qualifications.”

“We need all the people to work together and unite, in order to build collective immunity before winter comes,” Miao added.

READ NEXT: Overcoming the Next Challenges in Taiwan’s Vaccination Campaign

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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