By Addison Pascua

PHOTO: The Edge Markets

To demonstrate her confidence in the safety of the jab, President Tsai Ing-wen became the first person to receive Taiwan’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine as the island began launching its rollout to the public on Monday, August 23.

Developed by Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s, the Taiwan-made vaccine was given emergency approval by the health ministry last month which prompted fierce opposition from parts of Taiwan’s medical and scientific community saying that the contested shot has been rushed.

Tsai, who had held off using Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, the current mainstay of Taiwan’s vaccination program, got inoculated with Medigen shot at a hospital in central Taipei.

During her vaccination, Tsai vigorously answered a simple “No” to a shouted question from reporters asking whether she was nervous about getting inoculated as the whole vaccination process was being broadcasted live on her Facebook page.

As of this posting, more than 700,000 people have signed to receive the Medigen vaccine, which requires a second shot 28 days after getting the first one.

To date, The Taiwanese government has ordered an initial five million doses of the Taiwanese-made jab and it says nobody will be forced to get it.

In collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the United States, the Medigen vaccine, whose Chinese name means “high-end,” was made using a piece of the coronavirus to teach the body to mount an immune response.

Though the jab has yet to finish its clinical trials and no efficacy data is available, the Taiwanese regulators approved the vaccine after comparing the level of antibodies Medigan was able to generate with that of AstraZeneca, a vaccine that has been approved by many governments and has finished the full three stages of clinical trials.

Medigen’s Chief Executive Officer Charles Chen has likewise dismissed criticisms claiming that the vaccine is either unsafe or undue haste as he clarified that it is effective and well-tested.

“We have done so many experiments, everyone has seen how safe our vaccine is. There are so few side effects, almost no fever, and so on. So I think everyone can rest assured,” Chen told Reuters.

Despite the evidence presented to prove the efficacy of the domestically developed vaccine, Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), however, initiated a strong campaign against the jab, with one of its former vice-chairman, Hau Lung-bin, filing a lawsuit to invalidate Medigen’s approval, which was rejected by a court last week.

According to KMT, their party supports domestic vaccines but maintained that Medigen's authorization has been rushed.

“There is no need for the lives and health of the Taiwanese people to serve as white rats in a laboratory,” Ho Chih-yung, deputy head of the KMT’s international department said to Reuters.

Data showed that around 40% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million total population have at least received one shot of either of the two doses of AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine, though fewer than 5% are now fully vaccinated. 

The island’s vaccination policy is to prioritize giving first shots with only medical workers initially receiving the full two doses.

Unlike other Asian countries, Taiwan faces no huge pressure to ramp up its vaccination drive as the island remained largely free of COVID-19 with only a handful of domestic infections a day.