Taiwan starts vaccination drive with AstraZeneca

·2-min read
Lin Fang-yu, President of the Far Eastern Memorial Hospital, gets a Covid-19 vaccine in Taipei as Taiwan kicks off its inoculation drive

Taiwan kicked off its coronavirus inoculation drive Monday with two top officials getting AstraZeneca shots in a bid to boost public confidence in a vaccine that has had a troubled rollout.

Premier Su Tseng-chang and health minister Chen Shih-chung sat for jabs at a Taipei hospital after local authorities cleared the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant's vaccine for use.

"I am not feeling any pain at the spot or any soreness... I hope everyone can feel at ease after seeing my condition," said Su, 73, in footage televised live.

Earlier this month, countries ranging from France to Venezuela to Indonesia temporarily suspended use of AstraZeneca's vaccine over fears it may cause blood clots and brain haemorrhages.

But many resumed their rollouts after Europe's medical regulator last week called the vaccine -- which is among the cheapest available and easiest to store -- "safe and effective".

Taiwan went ahead with its rollout after a committee of local experts ruled that "clinical benefits" of the vaccine outweigh risks of adverse reactions.

But certain groups, including those in hormone therapy or taking contraceptive pills, are advised against the jab.

Taiwan -- population 23 million -- has been held up as a model in containing the coronavirus with just over 1,000 cases and 10 deaths.

It closed its borders early, imposed strict quarantine measures and carried out world-class contact tracing.

But it has struggled to secure adequate vaccine supplies and has so far only received about 117,000 AstraZeneca doses.

The self-ruled democratic island has signed contracts to purchase 10 million AstraZeneca doses, as well as around 5 million doses each from Moderna and the international Covax scheme.

Germany's BioNTech said last month it still intended to provide Taiwan with shots after the island's health chief warned "political pressure" had scuppered a deal -- raising concerns China might have tried to block it.

China views Taiwan as its own territory and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated, including keeping it locked out of the World Health Organization.

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