Analysis | Why does Taiwan need to develop its own vaccines?

TAIPEI (The China Post) — Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp. said Thursday that it would seek an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate after its Phase II clinical trials showed promising results.

The Taiwan-based biopharmaceutical company explained that its two-dose recombinant protein vaccine had shown no major safety concerns during trials as no participants in the study experienced severe adverse reactions.

Based on the results, the company said it is confident in obtaining a EUA application from the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (食品藥物管理署), increasing the likelihood its jab will become the first Taiwanese COVID-19 vaccine to reach the market.

But what market? With only 23 million people living in Taiwan, why does Taiwan need to develop its own vaccine? The response is simple: It is a strategic priority to develop our own vaccines so that Taiwan will not depend on others.

Why? A recent video produced by Vox clearly illustrates how the world’s richest countries have poured money into the race for a vaccine since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, making the pandemic last longer as a result.

Billions of dollars from the world’s richest countries have already poured into the race for vaccine programs such as the US’s Operation Warp Speed funded to bring multiple Covid-19 vaccines on the market in record time.

The problem is that by investing in research and development at an earlier stage, rich countries have also bought up most of the vital medical supplies for 2021, making poor countries wait sometimes for months and years for life-saving support.

With the same observation in mind, Taiwan has signed contracts to purchase nearly 20 million vaccine doses from overseas, including 5.05 million doses of Moderna, 10 million AstraZeneca, and 4.76 million doses of unspecified brands through the COVAX program. It has so far received 726,600 doses of AstraZeneca, as well as 1,24 million doses from Japan, and 150,000 doses of Moderna.

The government has also signed contracts with two local vaccine makers, United Biomedical and Medigen, to purchase a total of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. That’s the reason why the Taiwan government has offered its support for Taiwanese vaccine brands: Taiwan needs to develop its own vaccines to overcome the serious shortage of vaccines in the international market.

“It is our strategic priority to develop our own vaccines so that we will not depend on others,” President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said on May 31, and she is right.

The COVAX program co-led by the World Health Organization; Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is underway. But the program’s goal — to get vaccines to lower- and middle-income countries at the same time as rich countries — is too slow to bring relief in the short term.

White House officials said the 500 million vaccines will be shipped starting in August, with the goal of distributing 200 million by the end of the year. The remaining 300 million doses would be shipped in the first half of 2022.

In the meantime, Taiwan must help itself and strive forward with Taiwan-made vaccines.