Within a short period, a large number of Taiwanese living abroad will return to Taiwan for the Christmas, New Year and the Lunar New Year holiday.
This will present a significant challenge to the nation’s COVID-19 prevention efforts, particularly as the government said that mandatory quarantine for vaccinated arrivals would be reduced to seven days at a government-approved facility, followed by seven days at home, as well as a further seven days of self-health management.
More than 50 percent of Taiwan residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but 27 percent of those aged 75 or older have not received their fist dose.
Austria’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is 66 percent and Germany’s is 68 percent, but cases involving new variants of SARS-CoV-2 are reportedly filling up hospitals. The Austrian government is reimposing restrictions and even imposing a mandatory vaccination order. If infections further increase, some fear that Austria’s healthcare system might collapse.
Were such a situation to occur in Taiwan, this would be a nightmare for authorities.
Taiwan’s Achilles’ heel is the high vaccination rate of its young population, while the rate for those aged 75 or older, who are prone to severe illness, is the lowest.
Moreover, those aged 65 or older were vaccinated earlier than younger people, meaning that their COVID-19 antibody levels are gradually decreasing. A new domestic outbreak would put elderly Taiwanese at higher risk of infection, representing the greatest threat to Taiwan’s virus prevention strategy.
The National Health Insurance Administration in 2003 launched the Family Physician Integrated Care Plan. The agency used statistical analysis to screen 6 million Taiwanese who regularly seek medical assistance and assigned them to 6,000 family physicians.
Family doctors are best placed to understand the individual circumstances of their patients, and are able to develop a long-term trusted relationship.
With this in mind, the government should analyze data from the health insurance system to identify the approximately 900,000 elderly Taiwanese who have yet to receive a second COVID-19 shot and notify their family doctors, asking them to tell their patients and family membersthat they can receive their second dose at a familiar neighborhood clinic.
Additionally, lessons can be learned from the method the health authorities used in February last year when they added travel information to insurance card data of those who had recently visited China’s Hubei or Guangdong provinces, as well as any other COVID-19 hot spot.
The information reminded hospitals and clinics to be vigilant, which greatly contributed to the early success of Taiwan’s virus prevention efforts.
As for those aged 65 or older who have yet to receive their second dose, every time they use their insurance card to register at a hospital or clinic, medical staff should be notified of their vaccination status. The staff could then explain the advantages and disadvantages of getting a second jab. This additional level of care would help increase vaccination coverage, and in the event of a new outbreak, reduce the number of severe cases requiring medical treatment.
The majority of frontline medical personnel who are treating confirmed cases have received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Many are now concerned that they are gradually losing immunity, as they received their jabs early in the vaccine rollout.
Health officials should investigate this concern and consider providing frontline health workers with early booster shots.
Wang Fong-yu is chairman of the Kaohsiung County Medical Association.
Translated by Edward Jones
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