The nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program has proceeded a little slower than expected, so the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) is considering expanding the program to include more priority groups, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said at a meeting of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee at the legislature in Taipei yesterday.
At present, vaccines are being offered to frontline healthcare workers at hospitals dealing with COVID-19 cases, but as of Sunday only 9,377 jabs had been administered.
As the first batch of about 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine has an expiration date of June 15, legislators expressed concern that they would not be used in time.
Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times
The number of vaccines administered in the first week was lower than the center had expected, Chen said, adding that the reason was likely because of media reports of adverse side effects overseas that have dented people’s confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We allow people to freely choose if they want to get vaccinated and we arranged a priority list for the rollout so that people in higher-priority groups could get the vaccine first, but if their willingness to get vaccinated is low we could gradually offer the vaccine to lower-priority groups,” Chen said.
The center would discuss the issue and likely make an announcement tomorrow, he said.
Chen was asked whether the center had made any progress in its discussions with BioNTech in the past month after the minister last month said in an interview that Taiwan was close to securing a deal to purchase 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last year, but the deal fell through at the last minute, possibly due to “intervention from outside forces.”
After the interview was published, Reuters reported that BioNTech said that the company was still planning to provide vaccines to Taiwan and that discussions were ongoing.
The center had asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the situation, Chen said, and the company had said that it might have to postpone providing the vaccine to Taiwan by several weeks or months due to supply-chain issues. Taiwan would likely have received other vaccines or domestically produced vaccines by that time, so the possibility of signing a contract with BioNTech has receded, he said.
Separately, Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is also CECC spokesman, said the next priority group for vaccination would likely be “non-healthcare workers” at hospitals dealing with COVID-19 cases, as well as “healthcare workers at other facilities,” but that a decision would be made at a CECC specialists’ meeting.
Those who were vaccinated last week would need to receive a second dose in late May at the earliest, Chuang said, adding that the center is negotiating with AstraZeneca and COVAX to secure another shipment and that he was confident it would arrive in time.
Meanwhile, the center yesterday reported one new imported COVID-19 case, a Taiwanese who had returned from the Philippines.
Additional reporting by CNA
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