Observation shows that as countries around the world lift their COVID-19 lockdown measures, another wave of community transmission follows. Even after a third lockdown, a large wave of community transmission follows when restrictions are lifted.
However, the UK’s experience this month shows that even if there is still community transmission, with as many as 20,000 cases per day, when the COVID-19 vaccination coverage rate reaches 70 percent, the rate of serious illness and hospitalization remains low, and the cost to the state and the medical system is not very high.
This suggests that vaccination might be the ultimate solution to stopping the epidemic, and a rapid increase in Taiwan’s vaccination rate is therefore of utmost importance.
I have long advocated a daily vaccination rate of 1 percent, or 230,000 people. National Taiwan University College of Public Health professor Tony Chen (陳秀熙) later proposed a higher figure of 250,000 people per day. In this way, the vaccination coverage rate would reach 70 percent in 60 days. If at least 60 percent of this goal could be achieved, Taiwan would be able to lift its lockdown measures and revive the economy by November.
Israel early this month exchanged a batch of Pfizer BioNTech vaccines that was about to expire with South Korea, which administers about 850,000 doses o per day. As South Korea has a population of more than 51 million, Taiwan would have to administer 380,000 jabs Taiwanese should not underestimate their capabilities.
On June 20, the US donated 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Taiwan, and on July 6, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced that Taiwan had 7 million doses of vaccine.
Unfortunately, the Central Epidemic Command Center is very conservative. An announcement on its Web site showed that from July 1 to 7, 643,000 doses were allocated to city and county health bureaus, an average of only 92,000 per day. It is no wonder that many local governments have allocated very few doses to clinics, making it impossible to quickly boost vaccine coverage.
Vaccinations were first administered in hospitals, and when supply increased, the government began to administer the jabs in large vaccination stations. However, as lockdown measures are eased, hospitals are returning to normal services, and there might be fewer people available to administer shots. If the goal is to administer 30 million doses or more — the current vaccination rate of more than 3 million doses is only one-10th of that — surely the number of staff administering jabs should be raised.
To raise vaccination efficiency, it is imperative that the drug be administered at large injection stations, hospitals and clinics. In Taiwan, there are many remote villages with small populations, making it difficult to set up a large local injection station. Even if one were set up, it would at most be available for a day. Any people who were sick on that day would not be inoculated, and would still have to rely on clinics providing vaccination services.
Clinics are well distributed locally and highly accessible. They often have a long-term trusted relationship with their patients, who can visit their clinic anytime to ask questions. Once people are at ease, they can schedule an inoculation to avoid an unfortunate outcome. This is probably the most ideal model.
It is only when a vaccine is administered at a clinic that the date of injection is noted on the National Health Insurance card, leaving a record so that there will be no mistake as to when the second dose should be administered.
Given the different ways the vaccine is being administered, some people laughingly say that Taiwan is implementing a “one country, 24 systems” model. Rules will vary depending on the local situation, and local government leaders observe and learn from each other: When there is competition there will be progress.
At present, it seems that Taipei clinics administer the most vaccinations and Kaohsiung’s large vaccination stations are the most efficient. If people can learn from each other’s strengths, they can improve the vaccine coverage rate and lift lockdown measures without worries.
Wang Fong-yu is chairman of the Kaohsiung County Medical Association and a Taiwan Medical Association board member.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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