TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Health minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on Wednesday (Feb. 3) predicted that Taiwan may not be able to receive any COVID-19 vaccines until June and that 60 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated before border restrictions can be lifted.
In December, the CECC had projected that 20 million doses of vaccines it had negotiated to purchase, including 4.76 million doses through the COVAX global initiative and 10 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, would be available by March. However, on Wednesday, COVAX released its allocation forecast for the initial 337.2 million doses of vaccines to be distributed through the first half of the year, and Taiwan was not on the list.
In an interview with Apple Daily, Chen said that the government has encountered many difficulties in procuring vaccines and said that it is "more likely" that vaccines will be available in Taiwan by June. He said that when the vaccines do become available, Taiwan can begin to open its borders to travelers once 60 percent of the population is inoculated, meaning that herd immunity will have been achieved.
Chen said that once the coverage rate of 60 percent is reached, airports can begin "general screening." By then, Chen said, the number of days required for quarantine can be gradually shortened in stages.
During a press conference on Thursday (Feb. 4), Chen said the amount of time it will take to reach 60 percent coverage depends on the speed of vaccine delivery, the efficiency of delivery, and the "will of the people." He said that when herd immunity is achieved, the border will be opened to various countries based on their specific situations, including their active coronavirus case counts and vaccine coverage rate, among other factors.
Chen emphasized that the pandemic is not static and the virus will continue to mutate. He said that if the virus does not mutate too fast or too much and vaccination programs go as planned, he predicted that overseas travel could be possible by the end of the year.
When the vaccines do arrive in Taiwan, Chen pointed out that the priority will be on healthcare professionals, especially those who work in hospitals treating coronavirus patients, as well as quarantine officers, epidemic prevention vehicle drivers, and quarantine center staff.