Misguided government policy is a bigger problem than corruption; who knows what the repercussions of a mistaken vaccine policy could be. If a successful COVID-19 vaccine is developed, the 177 countries that have signed up to the Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) platform will receive inoculations.
If Taiwan does not receive the doses it needs, how will Taiwanese react?
Even if Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) is pushing for a domestically produced vaccine, how many would be willing to take one without international certification for safety and efficacy?
In an article published in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) on Jan. 25, 2010, Huang Yi-ting (黃奕廷), a professor who has worked in public health in the US and participated in bringing new pharmaceuticals to the market, raised suspicions surrounding the death of 30 individuals injected with Adimmune Corp’s H1N1 flu vaccine — deaths officials insisted were unrelated to the vaccine.
Then-president Ma Ying-jeou and then-minister of health and welfare Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) threw their support behind Adimmune, a company that is part of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) investment portfolio, and there was no investigation into the causes of the deaths by an independent data and safety monitor board (DSMB).
Andrew Pollard, a professor at the University of Oxford, is overseeing a vaccine development in conjunction with Swiss manufacturer AstraZeneca.
The project tested 23 vaccine variations in second-stage trials and selected a candidate that was then put through third-stage trials on 30,000 individuals in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and the US.
The US government has plowed US$1.2 billion into the development of this vaccine and the UK government ￡65.5 million (US$83.2 million).
On Sept. 6, a British participant in the trial developed transverse myelitis. The trials were immediately suspended and a DSMB notified.
On Sept. 12, the DSMB investigation was completed and a report presented to the British government, which then approved the resumption of the trials.
There have been human trials of 32 vaccine candidates across 34 countries, entailing the inoculation of 280,000 individuals. A single case of a serious adverse reaction is considered to be perfectly expected and acceptable.
The US government has subsidized the joint development of a COVID-19 vaccine by the US pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer and the German company BioNTech to the tune of US$1.9 billion, for which it wants a delivery of 100 million doses. Germany and the EU have also allocated 750 million euros (US$879 million) for vaccine development, including third-stage human trials.
Neither France, Japan nor South Korea have candidates ready for third-stage trials, but on Sept. 8, the Japanese Diet passed a budget of ￥671.4 billion (US$63.9 million) to purchase vaccines from the US and EU, and on Wednesday last week South Korea promised that 60 percent of its population — 30 million people — would receive a safe and effective vaccine, 10 million from COVAX, and 20 million from the US and the EU.
Stage-three human trials should be conducted in an area where the novel coronavirus is spreading, and include at least 30,000 people to prove that the vaccine is both safe and effective.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) are intelligent enough to make the only real choice available: to inform Taiwanese just how much the nation needs to spend to procure the required doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Hsieh Yen-yau is a retired professor of internal medicine at National Taiwan University College of Medicine.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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