It has been more than a year since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. Should we or should we not take the COVID-19 vaccine?
If we should, how do we choose which one? This is a big question, and as it is a matter of life and death, it must be kept within the realm of science rather than politics.
Unfortunately, in Taiwan, politics often interfere with science, as is easily seen by the confrontation between public health and politics on the vaccine issue.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is opposed to purchasing Chinese vaccines, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is promoting it, although there are no concrete scientific data to support it.
Before the first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Taiwan, the KMT mocked the government, saying that the nation has been marginalized on the global vaccine market.
After 117,000 doses of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford arrived last month, the KMT started to criticize the high cost of the government’s purchase, as well as the near expiry date.
Given this situation, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) were among the first in the nation to be administered the vaccine on March 22 to dispel public doubts and take responsibility for the public funds spent on the jabs.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Vice President William Lai (賴清德) agreed with Chen that they should be inoculated in public with a domestically produced vaccine, once this is available, to show support for a “Made in Taiwan” jab.
Does it sufficiently demonstrate that Taiwan places public health over politics if it says “no” to a Chinese vaccine? The answer is obvious if we look at the examples of other democracies.
On Dec. 19 last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the world’s first leader to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in public when he was inoculated with a Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
Three days later, then-US president-elect Joe Biden received the same vaccine, followed by others like Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
On March 19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French Prime Minister Jean Castex received the AstraZeneca vaccine, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife were inoculated with the same vaccine on Tuesday last week.
Despite having diplomatic relations with China, the leaders of those countries have all rejected Chinese vaccines. Is this public health or politics?
China’s “vaccine diplomacy” only works in developing countries. Is this public health or politics?
Despite administering the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, the number of people infected with the virus has continued to rise in Chile, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia and other countries.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic praised the quality of the Chinese vaccine, saying that it is the best of all vaccines. Is this public health or politics?
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the one hand said that the Chinese vaccine is the safest, but on the other, his country has begun administering the AstraZeneca vaccine. He is saying one thing and doing another.
As China is distributing its vaccine to every corner of the world, perhaps Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) could get a shot of a Chinese vaccine in public to set an example for 1.4 billion Chinese.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired associate professor at National Hsinchu University of Education.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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