Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Nobody panic: health minister

GETTING READY Taiwan is capable of developing its own vaccines, but hopes for a sample from the US to speed up production, Yeh Ching-chuan said yesterday

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A worker examines face masks at a factory in Changhua County yesterday. The factory has increased production to about 300,000 masks per day to satisfy growing global demand because of the swine flu outbreak.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The public should remain informed about the state of the swine flu outbreak but not panic, Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said yesterday, adding that concerted efforts nationwide would be key to preventing any outbreak in Taiwan from spreading.

Yeh told the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee that some media reports had exaggerated the risk of an epidemic in Taiwan.

“When you are scared but shouldn’t be, it’s called panic. When you aren’t scared but should be, it’s called ignorance. People should neither panic nor be ignorant,” he said.

Legislators across party lines urged the department to implement extra measures to monitor Chinese tourists entering the country, saying that China had a history of concealing disease outbreaks and its assurance that it was free of swine flu could not be trusted.

In response, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Javier Hou (侯清山) said that extra precautions were being taken for all people traveling through Taiwan’s airports, with temperatures of both outbound and inbound passengers being checked.

Asked whether the department expected the flu to reach Taiwan, Yeh said: “We will no doubt see isolated cases, but whether it develops into an epidemic will largely be determined by our disease control efforts, which require a national effort, and not just by the Department of Health.”

Yeh said Taiwan was capable of developing and producing its own vaccines, but that the government sought to obtain a vaccine sample from the US to speed up the process.

“We have already sent someone to obtain the sample,” he said, adding that as many as 24 million doses of H1N1 vaccine could be produced within six months if needed — enough to vaccinate the entire population.

In terms of flu medication, Yeh said the nation’s combined stock of 2.3 million doses of Tamiflu and Relenza was sufficient.

“The key to disease control is not the ‘weapons’ we have like Tamiflu or the H1N1 vaccine, but public health. We should fight the flu with knowledge about flu prevention, such as good personal hygiene and washing one’s hands often,” he said.

Local firm Adimmune Corp said separately yesterday that if asked by the government, it would cancel all orders and produce only H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

A spokesman said that Adimmune could produce up to 24 million doses of vaccine within three to six months of receiving a sample of the H1N1 strain of swine flu.

Adimmune, Taiwan’s only private manufacturer of vaccines for humans, produces vaccines for the flu, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus and tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) yesterday said three suspected cases of the swine flu had tested negative for the virus.

CDC spokesman Shih Wen-yi (施文儀) said the three people had visited Mexico or the US within the past week and had fevers upon landing in Taiwan.

Detailed lab analysis showed that the three were not sick with the swine flu.

Yesterday was the first day of the CDC’s stricter monitoring regime, with personnel boarding aircraft arriving from North America to check passengers for symptoms.

Shih said that nine flights carrying 1,474 passengers had been inspected and two passengers singled out for further assessment. Both were released after on-site doctors checked them for signs of the virus, he said.

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