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Public health experts call for higher booster coverage as Taiwan eases border restrictions

Time to coexist with COVID-19 using more humane methods of disease containment: Panel

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Michael Lu (top left), Jason Wang (top right), Chan Chang-chuan (bottom left), Ho Mei-shang at forum on April 13, 2022. (YouTube, TVBS ...

Michael Lu (top left), Jason Wang (top right), Chan Chang-chuan (bottom left), Ho Mei-shang at forum on April 13, 2022. (YouTube, TVBS ...

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Leading public health professionals are calling for higher booster dose coverage as Taiwan mulls relaxing COVID rules, noting unvaccinated seniors are more likely to be hospitalized when the iron curtain of border controls is lifted.

The push coincides with an announcement on Tuesday (April 12) that relatives of Taiwanese citizens and foreign residents, with the exception of migrant workers, can begin applying for a visitor visa.

In a TVBS-hosted forum on Wednesday (April 13) that gathered influential public health experts from Taiwan and the United States, Dr. Michael Lu (呂淳祺), dean of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, lauded Taiwan for its early and effective response to the pandemic. However, he expressed concern that nearly half of Taiwanese seniors remain unvaccinated.

Lu promoted a gradual, cautious approach to easing restrictions as this group is more vulnerable to serious symptoms and the predominant variant, Omicron, is highly transmissible.

In addition to advocating a higher level of vaccination, the Taiwanese American physician recommended expanding screening facilities and test kit accessibility as Taiwan eases restrictions.

Dr. Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) of National Taiwan University's College of Public Health said that as an export-reliant economy, Taiwan will inevitably open the borders when its trade partners lift their cross-border restrictions in order to boost growth. Against this backdrop, people need to understand that a "zero-infection strategy" is unattainable and that Taiwan needs to prepare itself to coexist with the virus, he explained.

Measures like promoting vaccination and tackling vaccine hesitancy among seniors, allowing patients with mild symptoms to recover at home, and evidence-based communication with the public as well as guidelines for local governments are necessary to address the post-pandemic challenges, Chang advised.

"Recovery-at-home" for those with mild symptoms should be complemented by telemedicine and a National Health Insurance plan that covers medication to help give patients peace of mind, Chang suggested. At the same time, the country's medical institutions should dedicate resources to those with moderate to severe symptoms.

Dr. Jason Wang (王智弘), professor of pediatrics and health policy at Stanford University, advocates expanding vaccination coverage to young children as well as seniors, adding that mask-wearing is still necessary in crowded areas.

Academia Sinica epidemiologist Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉) said she expects daily cases in Taiwan to continue to spike but noted that those who have received a third dose will only experience mild symptoms thanks to a higher antibody response. She recommended learning to coexist with the virus with more humane disease containment methods and advised against becoming obsessed with the number of infections.


Updated : 2022-05-24 07:42 GMT+08:00