Taiwan kicks off COVID vaccination campaign with AstraZeneca jab

Taiwan’s premier receives first shot in bid to boost public confidence in a vaccine that has had a troubled rollout.

This handout picture taken and released by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on March 22, 2021 shows Taiwan's Premier Su Tseng-chang gesturing after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei [Handout / CECC via AFP]

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot on Monday, having volunteered to be first in line to underscore government confidence in the vaccine’s safety as the island began its inoculation campaign.

“I have just finished getting the injection, there is no pain at the injection site, and there is no soreness of the body,” Su told reporters at National Taiwan University Hospital in central Taipei.

“The doctor told me to drink more boiled water and rest a bit. The first point I’ll follow, and the second point may be more difficult. But I’ll still try to rest as much as possible,” he added.

Earlier this month, many European countries as well as Venezuela and Indonesia temporarily suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine over fears it might cause blood clots.

But many resumed their campaigns after Europe’s medical regulator last week called the vaccine, which is among the cheapest available and easiest to store, “safe and effective”. Taiwan cleared the drug for use on Friday.

Taiwan went ahead with its inoculation drive after a committee of local experts ruled that “clinical benefits” of the vaccine outweigh the risk of adverse reactions.

But certain groups, including those in hormone therapy or taking contraceptive pills, which also carry a risk of blood clots, are advised against the jab.

The island’s first vaccines – 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot – arrived earlier this month from a South Korean factory.

About 60,000 people are in line to get the first vaccinations and Taiwan is making sure its health workers are among the first to get it.

The first vaccine for a health worker was given at a hospital in New Taipei city, next to the capital Taipei, Taiwanese media reported.

In December, Taiwan said it had agreed to buy almost 20 million vaccine doses, including 10 million from AstraZeneca.

The self-ruled democratic island has signed contracts to buy approximately five million doses each from Moderna and COVAX, an international initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO)  to ensure all countries have access to vaccines.

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, which claims the territory as its own, might have tried to block it.

Separately, Taiwan’s government has played down concerns about the late start to the vaccination programme, saying that with such a low case rate there is not the urgency that exists in other countries where the pandemic remains rampant.

Only 33 people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19 in Taiwan. The island has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, including by largely closing its borders.

Source: News Agencies