Taipei, March 19 (CNA) Taiwan will start administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to priority groups at 57 designated hospitals across the country on Monday, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has announced.
At a press conference held Friday evening, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the decision was based on the conclusion of the government’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the potential risks of adverse reactions.
The vaccines will, however, come with a warning label regarding unconfirmed risks of an increased rate of blood clots, and will not be recommended for people taking oral contraceptives or undergoing hormone therapy, said ACIP convener Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎).
The 44,500 doses distributed on Friday are the first batch from a shipment of 117,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived in Taiwan on March 3, and were approved for use on Wednesday after inspection by the Food and Drug Administration.
As of midday Friday, the doses had already arrived at 56 of the 57 designated hospitals, with only the offshore Lienchiang County (Matsu) having yet to receive its supply because of inclement weather, which hindered the delivery, according to CECC spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥).
The designated hospitals are those that reported having at least 500 people in the top two categories of the vaccine priority list who were willing to receive the jab, the CECC said.
Of the 57 hospitals, a total of nine are located in Taipei, followed by six in Taichung, five in Taoyuan and four each in New Taipei, Hsinchu County, Tainan and Kaohsiung, a person with knowledge of the distribution effort told CNA.
After receiving the jab, people will be given a yellow card showing their inoculation dates, the vaccine brand used and their doctor’s name. A purple sticker also will be placed on their National Health Insurance card for identification purposes, the person said.
The CECC has provided local governments with NT$147 million (US$5.17 million) to subsidize the vaccination efforts, in order to cover increased labor costs and storage of the vaccines at -20 degrees Celsius, the source said.
At the press conference, Chen said government experts had recommended that he and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) be publicly vaccinated at a hospital on Monday, in order to encourage people to receive the vaccine.
Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) later confirmed that Su will receive the vaccine to give the public confidence in the safety of the AstraZeneca jab.
It was not revealed whether President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), or any other high level government officials, would be vaccinated, and if not, why.
In total, Taiwan has signed contracts to purchase a total of 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through the COVAX allocation program.
However, so far, Taiwan has managed to only obtain the AstraZeneca vaccine.
With a population of 23 million people, Taiwan has only around 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, most of which are imported, and 10 deaths due to the disease. Its success in stopping the spread of the new coronavirus has earned it praise and reduced the urgency of obtaining vaccines.
(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)