The annual government-funded influenza vaccination program was launched on Monday, offering people aged 65 or older and high-risk groups a quadrivalent flu vaccine before anyone else. This year there are four brands of vaccines, but some politicians are again using misinformation to stir fear among the public, causing some who need the vaccine the most to put it off or refuse to get vaccinated.
The four vaccines in the program are an egg-based vaccine by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, an egg-based vaccine by Taiwan-based Adimmune Corp, a cell-cultured vaccine manufactured in Germany by Taiwan-based TTY Biopharm Co Ltd, and — new to the program — an egg-based vaccine using ingredients from South Korea and filled by Taiwan-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp.
As soon as the program was launched, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus held a news conference framing the inclusion of the Medigen flu vaccine as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government favoring the company, while calling for the right to choose vaccine brands, as if people are being forced to get the Medigen vaccine.
Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) and the Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday said that the four vaccines had all passed the Food and Drug Administration’s strict standard reviews and obtained licenses, that they have similar efficacy and adverse reaction incidence rates, and while they are distributed randomly based on shipment arrival times, people can still choose to go to a different vaccination site if they want another brand. Afterward, local KMT council caucuses and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) legislative caucus continued to say that many eligible recipients were concerned and refusing to get the Medigen flu vaccine, further stirring fear.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and local elections last year, KMT and TPP politicians attacked the government’s vaccination policy, especially focusing on the Medigen COVID-19 vaccine, with some even saying that the government was killing people for profit. They were focused on undermining the public’s trust in the DPP, which paid off in the elections.
The WHO on Aug. 29 gave a boost to the Medigen COVID-19 vaccine’s reputation when it announced that the Medicines Patent Pool had signed a technology transfer agreement with Medigen, allowing its COVID-19 vaccine to be used around the world. It was the first time that the WHO had endorsed a Taiwan-made vaccine. However, none of the politicians who criticized the DPP’s policy have apologized. They are reproducing the disinformation model used last year to stir doubt among people who need the vaccines, clouding their judgement by casting suspicion on the Medigen flu vaccine and blowing a few people’s concerns out of proportion.
Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), who concentrated a large portion of his election campaign last year on criticizing the government’s COVID-19 vaccine policy, even went so far as to announce on Friday that the city would ensure that the Medigen flu vaccine is not administered at schools and would procure other vaccine brands that are expected to arrive next month.
While some eligible recipients and parents of schoolchildren are concerned after seeing news about people refusing the Medigen flu vaccine, they are not fully informed about the vaccine. The Medigen flu vaccine is South Korean firm GC Biopharma’s GC Flu Quadrivalent vaccine, and is filled by Medigen in Taiwan under an exclusive distribution agreement. In 2017, all vials of the GC Flu Quadrivalent vaccine passed WHO prequalification. GC Biopharma has also supplied flu vaccines to 63 nations through the Pan American Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund.
People must be made aware that unsubstantiated rumors and political attacks that subvert the legitimacy of scientific evidence are not in their interest, and rejecting or delaying vaccination exposes them to health risks.
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