On Monday last week, television personality Swallow Chang (張小燕) wrote a message on Facebook titled “Don’t make things difficult, give us the vaccine.” It quickly generated a considerable number of passionate comments from the public. Chang’s post should be forwarded to Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅); he might find it useful.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last week stated that it is in negotiations with UK-based COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca to modify its contract to allow for the donation of surplus vaccine doses to Taiwan. Needless to say, China is furious — which itself is a tacit admission that China has been covertly interfering with Taiwan’s vaccine procurement, as well as a reminder that Beijing’s influence around the globe is omnipresent.
The government’s previous efforts to acquire quantities of foreign-produced vaccines from trusted pharmaceutical manufacturers has involved myriad twists and turns. In one sense, this is to be expected: negotiating with private-sector firms to obtain sufficient quantities of vaccine during a pandemic was always going to be a challenge.
Nobody in their right mind would believe that the government can place an order today, receive the shipments tomorrow and then immediately start distributing them among the population to save lives.
Furthermore, although Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) took the lead by publicly getting the vaccine on television, many people are still unwilling to get the jab themselves. It seems as though they think the government should stockpile large quantities of vaccines — for other people, not themselves — without considering the urgent need of other nations.
The domestic COVID-19 situation has shown signs of improvement in recent days, with the Rt value — the reproduction rate — having dropped to 1.02. Prior to the lull in new cases, there were several weeks of steadily increasing infections, causing panic among the public, and this resulted in simplistic cries for a vaccine without consideration of other factors. Some people seem to think that if they shout loud enough, vaccines will appear out of thin air. The question is: Will people again become reluctant to take the vaccine if the government brings the outbreak under control?
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has previously said that the government has purchased 30 million doses of vaccines. If additional doses are acquired by private companies, and if Buddhist groups and Chinese Communist Party proxies are added to this figure, it is likely that the supply already exceeds demand.
If the Central Epidemic Command Center must once again clean up the government’s mess, Taiwan could be criticized for hoarding vaccines. Next time you hear someone screaming: “Give us vaccines now,” ask yourself: “Who is making things difficult?”
Hsiao Chia-hung is a student at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development.
Translated by Edward Jones
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