Editorial: Nothing is more urgent than vaccines|Apple Daily Taiwan

Published (HKT): 2020.12.03 09:50

Compared to Europe, the US and Southeast Asia, where the COVID-19 pandemic has reached new and harrowing highs, Taiwan is still a model for the world in terms of its anti-pandemic success despite the apparent uptick in imported cases recently. However, there will be an increase in people returning from abroad at the year-end, and people will rush back to their hometowns during the Spring holidays. Furthermore, even though the entry of Indonesian workers, who are the backbone of elderly and patient care and manual labor in Taiwan, will be suspended for two weeks in light of the relatively high percentage of positive test results among them, the restriction cannot be in place prolongedly. Taiwan must not let down its guard.

Yesterday the government implemented the Fall-Winter COVID-19 Prevention Program. Among the many measures, inbound travelers and passengers who have to take a connecting flight in Taiwan must present a certificate showing a negative Nucleic Acid test taken not more than three days before they board the plane. Masks are also mandatory in venues where there are high risks of infection. These measures show that the government is definitely not taking any chances. No doubt the public’s cooperation will be also necessary.

Vaccines have changed global landscape in pandemic fight

Nevertheless, the world’s ultimate weapon against the pandemic will be vaccines, which will be released one after another. The US and some European countries have declared that their vaccination programs will be carried out shortly. As for vaccines developed by China and Russia, their quality and effectiveness have been called into question. However, people in China and Russia have received vaccinations for some time, and vaccines from China are even being exported. Once people in these countries have been vaccinated widely, the anti-pandemic landscape might be altered in a way that sees countries divided into two categories: those which have vaccinated their citizens, and those which have not. If Taiwan, which has been held as an anti-pandemic model in the “first half” of the game, cannot make it to the “leading group” of vaccinated countries, it might be put at another disadvantage.

Therefore, the Taiwan government has to utilize all resources at its disposal to eliminate all kinds of external and internal obstacles. Not only must Taiwan get good vaccines, but it must also get enough of them quickly to ensure that Taiwan can score the ultimate victory in this once-in-a-century fight against the pandemic.

The government’s position on vaccines has remained conservative and ambiguous. There are some subjective and objective restrictions on the domestic development of vaccines. So far, the vaccines have remained in the clinical development stage, which is not satisfactory. As for the procurement of vaccines from abroad, government officials have used non-disclosure agreements as an excuse to avoid revealing any details such as the number of vaccines purchased from foreign manufacturers and the progress. They have also pinned their hopes on the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative. In other words, the government is waiting for a piece of the pie together with all countries in the world.

Perhaps aware of the Taiwanese public’s worries about vaccines, Chen Shih-chung, the Minister of Health and Welfare, said just the other day that the government had procured about 10 million doses of vaccines from major international manufacturers, while the COVAX would also provide Taiwan with 4.6 million doses. In other words, Taiwan will have at least 15 million doses of vaccines. However, just as Chen himself has said, based on the assumptions that herd immunity is possible only if 60 percent of the population are vaccinated and that every person will have to receive two doses, Taiwan will need to acquire another 15 million doses. It does not seem that a way has been found to meet such a shortfall, not to mention the fact that questions remain as to when the 15 million doses of vaccines can be received or whether they will be received in full or in batches. It is impossible to find out the answers based on what Chen has said. But these questions will be crucial to Taiwan’s anti-pandemic success in the next stage.

If Taiwan is left outside the zone of protection

As some European countries and the US (and even countries like China and Russia) are about to or have begun to vaccinate its people, it can be expected that after a certain period of time a zone of protection will come into existence. People living in countries within this zone will see their lives – especially interactions between people living in different countries – return to normal soon. Furthermore, some people in European countries and the US still believe that pandemic is being exaggerated. They sniff at anti-pandemic measures such as masks and social distancing, which have proved to be effective, and have even vigorously refused to comply with related regulations. But after they have been vaccinated, they might go all out to ostracize countries outside the zone of protection. The situation in which “there are two worlds on planet earth” might be inevitable. If Taiwan cannot find a way into the zone of protection as soon as possible, its interactions with the international community will still be restricted regardless of how well it has kept the pandemic at bay domestically. That will be hugely disadvantageous for the recovery of many Taiwanese industries as well as Taiwan’s economic recovery.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Taiwanese people and stringent border control, Taiwan has won the first half of the match against COVID-19 resoundingly. The victory of the second half will hinge on vaccines. We believe that the government will try its best to acquire vaccines, and no one will be skeptical about whether Taiwan will get vaccines ultimately. What people are concerned about is how long we still have to wait and whether we will have a sufficient quantity of them. As European countries and the US will soon begin their vaccination programs, the Taiwan government should provide more and clearer information about vaccines for the Taiwanese people so that they can plan ahead. If the government encounters difficulties in the procurement of vaccines, it should address the problems pragmatically and honestly. While it should step up efforts to increase procurement from abroad and speed up domestic research, it should review whether there are any lacks of flexibility or unnecessary constraints that make it hard for Taiwan to procure vaccines.

In the first half of the game against the pandemic, countries are pitted against each other on their abilities to exercise border control and control the pandemic domestically. In the second half, their national strength and technological capabilities will be put to the test. While Taiwan enjoys quite a lot of inherent and acquired advantages in terms of national strength, it is not the case when it comes to technological capabilities. Taiwan needs to work harder, otherwise, the hard work it has put in will go to waste and there will be other consequences.

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