TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will begin its COVID-19 vaccination programme on Monday using AstraZeneca Plc shots, its health minister said on Friday, with Premier Su Tseng-chang volunteering to be inoculated first to underscore confidence in its safety.
Taiwan’s first vaccines – 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot – arrived on the island earlier this month from a South Korean factory.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters that officials had now given the go-ahead for the shots to start being administered from Monday at 57 vaccination sites around the island.
Around 60,000 people are in line to get the first vaccinations and Taiwan is prioritising health workers to get the shots.
In December, Taiwan said it had agreed to buy almost 20 million vaccine doses, including 10 million from AstraZeneca.
More than a dozen European countries suspended use of the vaccine this week amid concerns about its safety, though the World Health Organization’s European director said on Thursday the benefits of the shot far outweigh any risks, and its widespread use resumed on Friday.
Chen said he would have “no problem” taking the shot himself, and Taiwan’s Premier Su said he would be happy to be inoculated first.
“Premier Su believes he should let people have more confidence in imported vaccines, so he expressed his willingness to take the lead in getting the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Su’s office said in a statement.
Arrangements are up to health authorities to decide, it added.
Taiwan’s government has played down concerns about the late start to the vaccination programme, saying that with such a low case rate there is not the urgency that exists in other countries where the pandemic remains rampant.
Only 35 people remain in hospital being treated for COVID-19 in Taiwan. The island has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, including largely closing its borders.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jan Harvey)