More Taiwanese sign up for Covid-19 vaccination as second cluster of infections grows

Taiwanese are finding it near impossible to get a vaccination appointment now. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - The number of people registering for Covid-19 vaccination rocketed in Taiwan after a string of China Airlines crew members and airport quarantine hotel employees were diagnosed with the coronavirus infection in the past week.

As at Tuesday (May 4), the cases linked to the crew of Taiwan's flag carrier and a Novotel near the Taoyuan International Airport reached 28, the two newest additions being a pilot and a flight attendant.

One of the pilots had received the first vaccine dose nine days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, the Central Epidemic Command Centre said on Wednesday.

An earlier cluster was also in Taoyuan county, where the island's major international airport is located. It had happened in two hospitals, involving patients, medical staff and their families, with 21 confirmed cases and two deaths.

The current infections have also spread to family members of the hotel staff and airline crew, and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung on Monday said it "bordered on a community outbreak".

Before the cluster infection, Taiwanese generally reported low interest in getting vaccinated against Covid-19. Many voiced their concerns over side effects. The only vaccine available in Taiwan is the one manufactured by AstraZeneca. Its use was suspended in some countries after reports of rare but serious cases of blood clots among those who had taken it.

The vaccination process in Taiwan kicked off on March 22, with priority given to front-line medical workers who work with Covid-19 patients.

On April 6, the authorities announced that all hospital and clinic staff, as well as high-risk groups including government officials and law enforcement and military personnel, may begin to get vaccinated.

Starting on April 21, those who don't work high-risk jobs but have plans to travel abroad for business, study, family, or medical purposes began receiving vaccinations.

However, even those in high-risk jobs seemed hesitant.

As of April 20, less than 2 per cent of Taiwanese were vaccinated, while many opted to continue wearing masks rather than subject themselves to the potential side effects of the vaccine.

The tide began to turn as the airline crew case numbers grew.

On Tuesday, the Central Epidemic Command Centre reported a record high in daily vaccination numbers: Some 4,166 people received jabs on Monday, the first day those living with high-risk groups like medical staff and government officials could get vaccinated.

It used to be quite easy to register for a slot online to get vaccinated, but some Taiwanese are finding it near impossible to get an appointment now.

"I have always had poor health and don't want to put my father in danger of getting infected because he is still recovering from heart surgery," said podcast producer Lai Yu-chen, 25.

Mr Lai said he was unable to get an appointment despite many attempts at the hospital he wished to go to.

"I got really nervous seeing that the cases have spread to Taipei," he said.

Said Dr Lan Chi-lun, 30, a dentist in Kaohsiung: "I'm getting vaccinated on May 14. I wanted to get jabbed after seeing a drop in new cases in the UK (which has a high vaccination rate), and what better way to persuade others than by getting the vaccine myself first?"

But Mr Lai and Dr Lan may not be able to receive their second dose after the recommended eight weeks from their first AstraZeneca shot. The current stock of the vaccine will expire before their second shots are due and it is not clear when more will arrive.

Taiwan has received two shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, totalling 316,200 doses, with 199,200 expiring on May 31 and 117,000 on June 15.

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