More COVID-19 vaccines coming to Taiwan as cases spike

Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee, Reuters

Posted at May 17 2021 07:14 PM

A woman wears a protective face mask while walking in a market following a surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Taipei, Taiwan May 17, 2021. Ann Wang, Reuters

TAIPEI - Much needed COVID-19 vaccines should be coming to Taiwan soon, the GAVI Vaccine Alliance said on Monday, as the chip-producing island's limited supplies run short during a spike in cases that has left the government scrambling for supplies.

A surge of coronavirus infections in Taiwan, one of the world's COVID-19 mitigation success stories, has led to its stock of 300,000 doses rapidly running out, with only about 1% of its 23 million people vaccinated.

Taiwan has been a model of how to control the pandemic since it began but over the past week it has reported more than 700 domestic cases, out of a total of 2,017 infections recorded in all, triggering panic-buying at supermarkets as the government tightened curbs in the capital, Taipei.

The GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which with the World Health Organization is jointly running the COVAX scheme to provide doses to countries which may have difficulties obtaining them, said more AstraZeneca vaccines were coming to Taiwan.

COVAX expects Taiwan should receive allocated doses by the end of June at the latest, the alliance said in a statement to Reuters.

"The target remains to have 76 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from AZ delivered between February and June to supply up to 80 countries and we expect next tranches of deliveries of vaccines to Taiwan soon," it said.

Taiwan has ordered 20 million vaccine doses, mostly from AstraZeneca Plc but also from Moderna Inc, though global shortages have curtailed supplies.

Taiwan has said it expects to get more than 1 million AstraZeneca shots via COVAX.

Health authorities last week stopped giving shots to people who are not on priority lists that include the elderly and medical staff. Taiwan only has AstraZeneca vaccines.

AstraZeneca and Moderna did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters on Monday that there was "no new progress" to report on the arrival of more vaccines but lots more would gradually be coming. He gave no details.

CHIP MAKER

Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang party has called for the world to ensure that the island, a major semiconductor maker, gets priority help.

"Taiwan's pandemic is related to the stability of the global electronic product supply chain," party chairman Johnny Chiang said on Sunday.

A further concern for the government has been China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has a deep antipathy towards its democratically elected leaders.

China has been shipping supplies of its domestically developed vaccines around the world and has offered them to Taiwan via the COVAX global sharing scheme.

Taiwan law does not permit the use of Chinese vaccines.

A security official looking into Chinese activity on the island told Reuters the security services had been told to focus on what the government believes is "cognitive warfare" by China to "create chaos" and undermine public trust in the government's handling of the pandemic.

"They are trying to highlight the efficacy of the Chinese vaccines and how the government is blindly pinning its hopes on vaccines from the United States and home-made vaccines, leaving the lives of citizens in the lurch."

China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment.