Coronavirus: Taiwan to step up vaccination drive with 2 million doses to arrive by end of June

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Taiwan will step up coronavirus vaccinations with 2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines due to arrive before the end of this month.

The announcement came as the island reported 549 new infections and 12 deaths on Wednesday.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, who is also head of the island’s Central Epidemic Command Centre, said the centre had prepared a large-scale vaccination programme to inoculate as many people as possible, with 2 million doses of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines expected to arrive before the end of this month.

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Along with other shipments expected to arrive in Taiwan in the next two months, the island should have some 10 million shots available by the end of August, Chen said.

“We hope to reach the goal of having 60 per cent of our people taking the first jabs by October,” he said.

Under the plan, more than 7,790 medical workers will be deployed to vaccinate over 1 million people per week, according to the command centre.

The centre said that in addition to hospitals and health centres, 800 local clinics had joined the programme, with 2,000 more clinics taking part from August.

Taiwan has so far received 870,000 vaccine doses – 720,000 from British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and 150,000 from US-based Moderna. It has signed deals to buy 10 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and more than 4.7 million doses via the Covax Facility supported by the World Health Organization.

It has also signed deals with Taiwan’s Medigen Vaccine Biologics and United Biomedical for 5 million doses apiece, and agreed verbally to buy a further 5 million of each.

So far, more than 460,000 people, mostly medical and frontline workers, have had at least one dose – covering just 2.32 per cent of the island’s 23.5 million population. The centre said 65 people showed adverse effects, including serious headaches, body aches and nausea.

Chen said the soft lockdown imposed by the command centre since May 15 had helped limit the spread of the disease.

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But some medical experts warned of the risk of further outbreaks.

Ho Mei-hsiang, from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences under Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top academic institution, said the soft lockdown introduced on May 15 had had some effect but the restrictions were less likely to be eased in the next two weeks.

“There are still a number of undiagnosed and mild cases which could induce a new wave of cluster infections within communities,” Ho said.

Taiwan has stopped short of imposing a full lockdown, but raised the alert to the third level of its four-tier system, requiring people to stay at home as much as possible and strictly observe social distancing rules and mask wearing until June 14.

Chen called on the public to remain on guard, saying the outbreak appeared to have slowedbut it was still far from under control.

On Wednesday, the command centre reported 372 new local cases, no new imported cases, and 177 cases delayed by a reporting backlog last week – bringing the total number to 9,389, with 149 deaths, including the 12 new deaths.

The stress of the outbreak has not only taken its toll on health workers but also on coronavirus patients.

Police in Taipei said they arrested a 71-year-old man on Wednesday after he smashed a hospital window and fled the ward where he was being treated. On Monday, a 62-year-old man stabbed three nurses who tried to stop him from breaking out of a hospital’s negative pressure ward in New Taipei.

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Thomas Prinz, Germany’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan, said he was confident that Taiwan should be able to keep the pandemic at bay given the efforts of its government and the public.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Prinz also said the German government would be happy to see the island and Germany-based BioNTech reach a deal on vaccines but it was not up to Berlin.

Taipei has claimed that Beijing hampered the island’s efforts to buy BioNTech vaccines, with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group having the rights to distribute the doses throughout the greater China region. But Beijing says Taipei refused to deal with Fosun due to its anti-China policy.

“Please trust that the German government ... has made great efforts in continuous communication and coordination between Taiwan and BioNTech [over the vaccine purchase deal],” he said.

Prinz said Germany contributed to the Covax Facility, the WHO-backed platform through which the island has acquired a number of AstraZeneca jabs.

He called on the public to get vaccinated when more brands of vaccines were available.

Chen, the health minister, thanked Germany for its efforts to try to help Taiwan buy the BioNTech vaccine.

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