President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said the US would share virus cultures for making a vaccine against the H7N9 strain of avian influenza.
Ma inspected the Central Epidemic Command Center and instructed agencies to remain on high alert for a possible outbreak of the H7N9 flu strain in Taiwan.
He described the anti-flu preparations as a battle, and said the government might work with the US to produce a vaccine.
“We would work with any nations on anti-avian flu measures, and we will cooperate with the US if it successfully develops a seed vaccine for the disease,” he said.
He said Taiwanese officials in the US have told the government that once the US develops a seed vaccine, it would provide it to Taiwan so that Taiwan can make its own vaccine.
The Department of Health said production of an H7N9 vaccine could be undertaken either by acquiring the wild-type H7N9 virus strain from China or by receiving a developed vaccine strain from the WHO or the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there has been no sign of sustained human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 strain in China, Taiwan should be extra cautious about the situation, Ma said.
Citing the example of the spread of SARS from China 10 years ago, Ma said SARS spread to Taiwan within a week following the reported outbreak in China, even though there were no direct flights across the Taiwan Strait.
“Now there are 616 direct flights across the Taiwan Strait every week, and we must strengthen the preparatory work to combat avian influenza,” he said.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達), who accompanied Ma on the inspection tour, said the government has enough anti-viral drugs stockpiled to treat 22 percent of people in Taiwan.
There are 22 hospitals in the Infectious Disease Control Network on standby, and another 137 hospitals that are equipped with quarantine wards, Chiu said.
Centers for Disease Control Director-General Chang Feng-yee (張峰義), who heads the command center, said China has said it will provide Taiwan with a wild strain of H7N9 test reagents. He did not say when or how China would provide the reagents.
He also said the command center would ask the Cabinet to allocate NT$450 million (US$15 million) from its second reserve fund for medical supplies and will have Tamiflu powder packaged into capsule doses.
Ma said the government would stay in close contact with the international community and would exchange information with other countries during the World Health Assembly meeting next month.
Additional reporting by CNA