Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccine struggles

Authors: Yves Tiberghien and Jackie Jiaqi Zhao, UBC On 23 August, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen became the first world leader to receive a brand-new vaccine conceived and made in Taiwan — Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation’s MVC-COV1901, which has yet to complete phase three trials. This marks the latest and most controversial stage in Taiwan’s robust […] The post Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccine struggles first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccine struggles

Authors: Yves Tiberghien and Jackie Jiaqi Zhao, UBC

On 23 August, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen became the first world leader to receive a brand-new vaccine conceived and made in Taiwan — Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corporation’s MVC-COV1901, which has yet to complete phase three trials. This marks the latest and most controversial stage in Taiwan’s robust response to the sudden COVID-19 surge it experienced in May.

Taiwan was remarkably effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, mobilising its Central Epidemic Command Centre as early as 20 January 2020. Taiwan immediately accelerated the production of tests, masks and respirators, closed its borders and launched efficient contact-tracing with coordinated information sharing. Schools and restaurants remained open. With such measures, Taiwan ended 2020 with a mere 799 cases, seven deaths and economic growth of 2.9 per cent.

Taiwan initially continued to maintain control. By 30 April 2021, it had experienced a total of 1128 cases and 12 deaths over 16 months. But in May, the dam burst. Cases reached 8511 by the end of May (with 600 new cases per day at the end of that month) and 14,804 by end of June. Deaths reached 730 by 9 July.

The appearance of new highly transmissible variants triggered the spike. But Taiwan’s readiness had weakened, due to complacency over time and delay in rolling out vaccines. Before the outbreak, the government relaxed its quarantine measures for non-vaccinated airline pilots. A handful of China Airlines pilots were later found to have contracted the virus. From there, it spread through Taiwan’s adult entertainment ‘tea houses’ and eventually to local communities in mid-May.

Taiwan managed to defeat this sudden wave mostly through refocussing on its core methods and continued high levels of social cohesion. Lockdown measures were increased to level three, including a mask-wearing mandate in any public place, a ban on indoor non-essential services, a halt to leisure and religious gatherings, and the use of remote teaching. Contact-tracing and quarantine measures were tightened while foreign nationals were barred from entering the island.

The measures worked. As of 17 September, Taiwan had an average of eight new cases and zero new deaths per day (on a rolling seven-day average), and a very low 35 per million total death rate.

But the May surge highlighted Taiwan’s vulnerability due to late vaccine deployment. As of 15 June, only 0.1 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated and 4 per cent had received one dose. This delay was motivated by the public’s reluctance to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. Only 41 per cent of the public was willing to take vaccines in April, given Taiwan’s full control of the pandemic.

In response to the crisis, Taiwan accelerated the order of Western vaccines. It secured 17 million doses, including 3.4 million doses of from Japan and 2.5 million doses from the United States. But these are insufficient. So, Taiwan had to move to plan B.

In order to acquire larger numbers of Pfizer-BioNTech doses while complying with the firm’s decision to distribute the vaccine through its Shanghai subsidiary, Taiwan has authorised an unusual private-civil society arrangement. Electronic firms Foxconn and TSMC, along with the Tzu-Chi Buddhist foundation, ordered 15 million doses of Pfizer vaccines and 1.84 million doses have been delivered to Taiwan to date. Yet this arrangement has proved controversial, given the complicated state of cross-strait relations — 33 per cent of the public is unwilling to take this vaccine due to its routing through Shanghai.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s efforts to develop its own vaccine came to the public’s attention. The Medigen vaccine was developed in cooperation with US firm Dynavax. It finished phase two trials in July and was granted Emergency Use Authorisation approval on 19 July. Phase three trials were initiated in Paraguay, a country with diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

This vaccine strategy is proving divisive among the Taiwanese public. Although the Medigen vaccine is based on early antibody count data, which are positive, it will take more time to ascertain its actual efficacy. Its rapid deployment is becoming a highly political issue, and the opposition doubts its effectiveness and safety. Only 54 per cent of Taiwanese people are willing to take it. The controversy around slow vaccine deployment is now for the Democratic Progressive Party government.

In the first four weeks of the rollout to 17 September, nearly 721,000 Taiwanese took the vaccine. 13 people died after taking it (possibly due to other causes), but the death rate is extremely low and comparable to other vaccines. In total, only 7 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated to date (and 49 per cent got at least one dose).

Two lessons emerge from Taiwan’s recent experience with COVID-19 — even the best measures get eroded over time by complacency and fatigue, and it is nearly impossible to be safe from COVID-19 without adequate vaccine deployment.

Yves Tiberghien is Professor of Political Science, the Konwakai Chair in Japanese Research and Director Emeritus of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada. He is the author of the just released The East Asian Paradox (Cambridge University Press 2021).

Jackie Jiaqi Zhao is a Juris Doctor Candidate in the Peter A Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.

The post Taiwan’s COVID-19 vaccine struggles first appeared on East Asia Forum.
Source : East Asia Forum More   

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Chinese Asylum-Seeker's Parents Arrested by Chongqing State Security Police

Wang Jingyu's father Wang Bing and mother Han Qing are detained after months of police surveillance.

Chinese Asylum-Seeker's Parents Arrested by Chongqing State Security Police

A Chinese national who fled China after supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong to seek political asylum in the Netherlands says his father has been arrested by police in his home city of Chongqing.

Wang Jingyu, 19, who holds permanent residency in the United States, was arrested by United Arab Emirates police on April 5, en route to Istanbul, and eventually released after calling on the international community for help.

He is currently in the Netherlands, where he has applied for political asylum.

Wang said via his Twitter account on Sept. 12 and 13 that he been informed by Chongqing's state security police that his mother Han Qing and his father Wang Bin had been detained.

One email said his father is being held under criminal detention for allegedly "planning to travel to Hong Kong to foment chaos."

"On Sept. 12 I got an email from a public account belonging to the Chongqing state security police saying ... that he is being held under criminal detention," Wang told RFA in a recent interview.

"The next day, when I called the Chongqing police department, they told me that both of my parents had been detained," he said. "This latest detention isn't the first time my parents were detained."

"My parents have been called in for illegal questioning and placed under surveillance at their home [for months]," he said. "I haven't been able to get in contact with my parents at all."

"I don't know why [they have detained them now]," Wang said.

Wang was detained in absentia by police in his hometown, the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, after he cast doubts on state media reporting after thousands of Indian and Chinese troops faced off in June 2020 at three or four locations in the western Himalayas after Beijing’s forces intruded into Indian territory, according to Indian security officials and local media.

But China denied breaching the LAC near the Galwan River in India’s snowy and mountainous Ladakh region.

Indian and Chinese troops later disengaged from the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake, in an operation begun on Feb. 10, 2021.

Wang left China while he was still in high school, after he was targeted for making comments in support of the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong, he told RFA in an interview this week.

"I commented [on social media] that there must be a reason why the Hong Kong rioters, as they were described in the Chinese media, were attacking [the Hong Kong police]," he said.

"Then the school brought my parents in ... and expelled me from the school. The reason they gave was my problematic political views, which were having a seriously negative impact on the image of the school," he said.

Arrest in Dubai

Wang said he didn't think about fleeing China until later, however, when his parents were notified that he could be arrested by the state security police.

"My parents used their connections to send me to Shanghai, where I could get a new passport, because my old passport had been confiscated by police," he said.

"After I got the new passport, I traveled to Hong Kong from Shanghai."

The State Department called his arrest in Dubai "a human rights concern," and U.S.-based activists made representations to U.S. officials in a bid to stave off his forcible repatriation to China.

Wang was freed and dumped aboard an onward flight to Istanbul in a single outfit of clothing and flip-flops, holding nothing but his phone and a passport, just hours after The Associated Press began asking questions about his case, the agency reported on Thursday.

An official source in Chongqing told RFA that China expects its extradition partners -- of which the UAE is one -- to arrest people transiting through their airports.

Wang and his fiancee Wu Huan arrived safely in the Netherlands after a harrowing ordeal in which the pair were snatched from flights and hotels, illegally detained, and mistreated, all the while under the constant threat of repatriation to China.

Wu, who flew out to Dubai to help Wang, was herself kidnapped on May 27 by Dubai officials in the Bur Dubai Police Station Detention Center, where she was held for three days.

She was handed over to the Chinese consulate and illegally held by them until June 8, when she escaped and managed to board a flight to Ukraine.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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