Taiwan’s president gets first shot of homemade Covid-19 vaccine amid concerns over its rushed approval

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has been leading by example and got the first shot of the locally developed coronavirus vaccine despite it being approved before the results of the clinical trials were available.

Tsai was inoculated with the Medigen jab in front of the cameras Monday at a gymnasium on the campus of National Taiwan University in the capital Taipei. She would require a second dose in 28 days.

The president insisted that she wasn’t nervous before the shot and flashed an OK sign with her hand after the nurse was done with her.

She later thanked the medics on Twitter, while encouraging the Taiwanese people to also get vaccinated “as soon as possible” to protect themselves and those around them.

The move was apparently aimed at showing Tsai’s confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the locally developed jab, as the president had previously refrained from receiving the American Moderna and UK AstraZeneca vaccines, which the island mainly relied on during its inoculation drive.

However, not everybody shares that confidence – Ho Chih-yung, one of the leading members of the main opposition party, Kuomintang (KMT), told Reuters that the rushed approval of the Medigen vaccine has effectively turned the Taiwanese people into “white rats in a laboratory.”

The authorities in Taipei gave the green light to the homemade jab under an emergency procedure in July, claiming that it had to be done to compensate for the delays in shipments of foreign vaccines that affected the island as well as many other countries.

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The approval of Medigen before the end of clinical trials and without efficacy data being available has prompted an expert from the advisory committee on vaccines to resign.

The government only said that, according to studies, the level of antibodies produced by the domestic shot have been “no worse than” those created by AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

The Kuomintang party had gone to court in an attempt to reverse Medigen’s authorization, but the lawsuit was rejected by the judge last week.

The developer of the jab rejects all attacks on it, with Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s chief executive Charles Chen saying that “we have done so many experiments, everyone has seen how safe our vaccine is. There are so few side effects, almost no fever and so on. So I think everyone can rest assured.”

Boxes of Taiwan's domestically developed Medigen coronavirus vaccine. © Reuters / Annabelle Chih

The Taiwanese regulator has told the company that it would have to submit real-world efficacy data on its vaccine within a year.

The government has initially ordered five million doses of Medigen, with 700,000 islanders already signing up to be inoculated with the homemade jab just like their president.

Taiwan has rejected China’s offers to send its vaccines to the island, which Beijing considers an integral part of its territory.

So far, around 40% of the island’s population of 23.5 million has received the first dose of a coronavirus jab. The number of fully vaccinated is below 5%, but Taiwan only registers a handful of Covid-19 cases every day.

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FILE PHOTO. Charles Chen, Chief Executive Officer of Taiwan’s vaccine maker Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp (MVC), poses for photographs with a vaccine sample at its headquarters in Taipei. © AFP / Sam Yeh
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Since the start of the pandemic, Taipei has reported around 16,000 infections and just over 800 deaths caused by the virus.

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