The WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool on Aug. 29 announced a licensing agreement with Taiwan’s Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp to make the company’s COVID-19 vaccine accessible worldwide to people in need.
This is the first time a Taiwanese vaccine manufacturer has used the WHO patent access model to offer its know-how for a COVID-19 vaccine to the world. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed his gratitude to Medigen for sharing its patent to support countries in fighting the disease.
Toxicology results, animal and clinical trial data, as well as production data, were required to enter the C-TAP pool, similar to how Taiwanese officials in 2021 assessed and granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the product.
Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) said that the WHO’s addition of Medigen’s vaccine, which has been administered more than 3 million times in seven countries, means that the global body has authorized and endorsed a Taiwan-made vaccine, and was an affirmation of the nation’s vaccine industry. This is a validation of Medigen after the harsh criticism it has endured from Taiwanese opposition parties over the past few years.
There are also lessons to learn about the restoration of justice for vaccine development and manufacturing in Taiwan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, China weaponized vaccines to advance its geopolitical agenda and influence politics in Taiwan. Beijing not only barred vaccines produced by foreign manufacturers and limited its people to its domestic vaccines, it also sought to block Taiwan’s vaccine procurement, including by delaying delivery of an order for BioNTech vaccines. These actions aimed to inflict political damage on President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration while promoting Chinese-made vaccines to facilitate its “united front” work.
Ironically, despite surveys showing that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese were not willing to be inoculated with China-made vaccines, some opposition politicians, notably from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and pro-China media influencers badgered the government to buy Chinese vaccines, while lashing out at Taiwan’s domestically produced vaccine and stigmatizing efforts to foster an indigenous biotech industry.
International researchers have shown that Taiwan-made vaccines are effective against COVID-19. A transnational study published in a Swiss medical journal found that Medigen’s vaccine has an efficacy of 84 percent, far better than Chinese vaccines, which were rated only 65 percent effective.
While the Food and Drug Administration was criticized for granting Medigen an EUA based on immunobridging, many WHO-validated vaccines used the same standard to issue EUAs. Studies have also shown that Medigen’s protein subunit vaccine has fewer adverse reactions than mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The Medigen story is a reminder that the scientific process should prevail over political mudslinging.
Political attacks have intensified in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections in January, with slogans such as “Electing the Democratic Progressive Party will cause war” — even as China continues with its military posturing in the Taiwan Strait.
Just as collective immunity against a virus is required to protect public health when a pandemic hits, collective awareness and wisdom are required as the elections draw near to guard against disinformation and stigmatization, and protect Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty.
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