Chen Chien-jen says prompt action in December 2019 could have averted a global pandemic.
Taiwan has given regulatory approval to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and might start giving the first inoculations as early as Monday, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said.
Taiwan’s first vaccines – 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot – arrived on the island earlier this month.
In a video statement late on Wednesday, Chen said the doses, which came from a South Korean factory, had cleared the last of the checks by Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration.
The aim is to start dispensing them from as early as Monday, he added.
Taiwan is prioritising health workers in the first wave of its vaccination programme and about 60,000 people are in line to get the first vaccinations, Chen said.
The self-ruled island took early action to suppress the COVID-19 pandemic and has managed to keep total cases below 1,000, stamping out outbreaks with a strict quarantine and testing system.
In December, Taiwan said it had agreed to buy almost 20 million vaccine doses, including 10 million from AstraZeneca.
More than a dozen European countries have suspended use of the vaccine amid concerns about its safety following reports of blood-clotting incidents. Millions of doses have been given without adverse effect and the World Health Organization said on Wednesday it considers that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks, recommending that vaccinations continue.
Taiwan’s government has played down concerns about the late start to its vaccination programme, pointing out that its low case rate means the urgency is not as high as in countries where the pandemic remains rampant.
Only 24 people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19 in Taiwan.