Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), founded in 1987, has made great contributions to industrial development, charity and national defense over the past three decades, and even successfully procured 5 million doses of the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Taiwan. The company is sometimes referred to as a “sacred mountain protecting the country,” a well-deserved description.
When visiting several Taiwanese biotechnology companies on Feb. 17, Vice President William Lai (賴清德) said he hoped that those companies would build another sacred mountain through the production of COVID-19 vaccines. Given the extremely high potential of the local pharmaceutical industry, such companies deserve greater attention and support.
Becoming a pillar of industry in Taiwan does not only require sufficient funding and good industrial and economic policies; the public’s attitude toward the industry is just as crucial.
For example, there are numerous semiconductor wafer foundries around the world, but TSMC and United Microelectronics Co are the ones most frequently mentioned in Taiwan. Many people might not know much about wafer manufacturing, but TSMC is a name known to almost everyone. The government’s frequent touting of those big foundries is also important to the public’s familiarity with them.
In contrast, the public seems to hold a different attitude toward the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the strength of the industry, people seem to believe that the grass is greener on the other side.
Today, demand for painkillers has surged following the launch of a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination drive, as officials and media advise people to buy Panadol in case they need to relieve any pain after being inoculated. Central Epidemic Command Center specialist advisory panel convener Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said that the side effects from vaccination were quickly alleviated by Panadol.
This brand is made from acetaminophen, the primary ingredient in hundreds of other painkillers on the market. Acetaminophen is produced by many Taiwanese companies, and more than 200 drugs covered by the National Health Insurance program contain it.
The local companies that produce these drugs have obtained international certification. Their ability to produce drugs is not inferior to that of foreign brands, and there is no problem with the quality or the efficacy of locally produced painkillers.
There are so many options for painkillers containing acetaminophen that it is practically impossible for them to be sold out. Still, news reports often tell us about Panadol shortages, which deepens public misunderstanding and causes panic.
Despite this, officials never take the initiative to clarify the issue by saying that it is not necessary to buy a specific brand of painkiller, but instead make it sound as if Panadol is the only painkiller available.
It would not be possible to turn the pharmaceutical industry into the next “sacred mountain” simply by lavishing it with praise. Still, the government should take the initiative to develop public trust in and reliance on the local pharmaceutical industry.
Huang Jin-shun is president of the Federation of Taiwan Pharmacists’ Associations.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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