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Taiwan Rolls Out Homegrown COVID-19 Vaccine as Cases Hit New Low

By Hsia Hsiao-hwa 2021-08-24 -- Cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan hit a fresh low on Tuesday, as the democratic island started to roll out its own coronavirus vaccine to the population.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung announced six new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, including five imported infections and one local case, and one death, bringing the COVID death toll to 829.

The figures came a day after Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen received a shot of the domestically developed Medigen vaccine.

"Today I got my first shot of #Taiwan's own Medigen vaccine," Tsai tweeted after delaying her vaccination for several weeks in order to endorse the island's own-brand shot.

"Thank you to all our medical workers for making this such a smooth & painless process," the tweet said. Tsai's vaccine appointment was also broadcast live on her Facebook page.

The new jab, licensed for emergency use by Medign Vaccine Biologics, comes not a moment too soon, amid delays in deliveries of overseas-made vaccines from international drug companies.

"It doesn't hurt, I'm in good spirits, and I'm going to continue working for the day," she later wrote on Facebook.

The recombinant protein vaccine was developed with input from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the government has ordered an initial five million doses, but has been subject to criticism from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which claims it was rushed to production too soon.

Other high-profile individuals also made a point of waiting until the Medigen jab came out, including Huang Jie, city councilor in

the southern port city of Kaohsiung and Akio Yaita, Taipei bureau chief for Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper.

Huang wrote on her Facebook post after getting the Medigen jab: "Using my arm to hit back at slanderous fake news."

Yaita told reporters: "Taiwan's vaccine has been discredited and demonized by many people. This is a shame."

"I have chosen to support Taiwan's domestic vaccine so as to dissolve any public misconception," he said, adding that Taiwan's own vaccine was of great strategic importance.

The government says studies so far have shown that antibodies created by the Medigen vaccine are no worse than those created by the AstraZeneca jab.

But Ho Chih-yung, deputy head of the KMT's international department, said Taiwan's population were being used as subjects in an experiment.

"There is no need for the lives and health of the Taiwanese people to serve as white rats in a laboratory," Ho told Reuters.

Around 40 percent of Taiwan's population have so far received at least one shot of either of the two-dose AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines. However, only five percent are fully vaccinated.

Epidemiologist and biomedical researcher Ho Mei-hsiang said the vaccine should be good to go.

"I have no objection to [emergency authorization]. I absolutely support it," Ho told RFA. "I believe that this vaccine is good, safe and effective, but they still have to prove it."

Ho called on Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to report back with full data on the jab's safety and efficacy as soon as possible.

Professor Chen Hsiu-hsi of the School of Public Health at National Taiwan University said the vaccine uses "immune bridging," a technique that is generally considered safe.

But he said emergency authorization shouldn't and couldn't be a replacement for phase III clinical trials.

He agreed that Taiwan now has a strategic advantage on the international stage, by dint of having developed and produced its own COVID-19 vaccine.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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