Taiwan is relying on domestic Covid-19 vaccination to speed up its vaccination program as the island and many countries struggle to secure vaccine supplies from large pharmaceutical companies.
Medigen Vaccine Biologics’ locally made Covid vaccine was launched last week, with President Tsai Ing-wen receiving her first vaccination with the two-dose vaccine last Monday.
Medigen’s vaccine was developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the United States. The vaccine, like Novavax’s, is based on a technology called recombinant protein, which uses part of the coronavirus protein to trigger an immune response.
Last week around 600,000 people in Taiwan were vaccinated with the Medigen vaccine, the company’s CEO Charles Chen told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Tuesday.
Some critics have questioned the approval of Medigen’s vaccine. Health officials cleared the vaccine for emergency use in July after completing only Phase 2 clinical trials in Taiwan with no available efficacy data.
Chen told CNBC that it was unable to conduct a “traditional efficacy study” because Taiwan’s infection rate was “so low.” Such a study typically involves a comparison between a vaccinated group and a control group not receiving the vaccine, he explained.
Instead, Medigen used a method called “immune bridging” to infer the level of protection of the vaccine based on the immune responses of the study participants.
“We’ll say our protection will be … the same or better than AstraZeneca,” said Chen.
Medigen announced in July that it had received approval to conduct a Phase III clinical trial for its Covid vaccine in Paraguay.
Deliveries of Covid vaccines
Taiwan’s vaccination program got off to a slow start as it – like many governments around the world – faced challenges in securing supplies of Covid vaccines.
The island, with a population of around 24 million, has received more than 10 million doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, according to Unicef. That includes nearly 6 million cans donated by the US and Japan, the data showed.
Around 42% of Taiwan’s population have received at least one shot of the Covid vaccine, less than 4% of which are fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the online repository Our World in Data.
While Taiwan reported very few Covid infections last year, the island’s cases skyrocketed in May. Nevertheless, Taiwan’s cumulative number of cases remains relatively low. The number of daily reported cases on the island has since fallen, unlike many of its Asian neighbors who are still grappling with rising infections.
The island has reported 15,995 confirmed cases and 835 deaths since early last year, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday.