How many Japanese settle in Taiwan

First pioneer, then left behind? : Why Japan, South Korea and Taiwan start vaccinating so late

Mass testing, digital tracking, and foreclosure: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were among the pioneers in containing the coronavirus - but as vaccination campaigns around the world begin, all is quiet around them. The three Asian countries can still shine in an international comparison with their Corona key figures: In Japan the seven-day incidence is 8, in South Korea 6, and in Taiwan even 0.01.

But it looks different with the vaccination programs of the countries - the former pioneers in the Corona fight do not appear in the overview lists of global vaccinations. Because the campaigns are making slow progress.

Japan only started immunizing the population on Wednesday - more than 1.5 months after the first vaccinations were administered in Germany. First, the vaccine is to be administered to around 20,000 medical workers who had agreed to take part in a study on possible side effects.

Another 3.7 million employees in the health sector are to receive the vaccination in March. From April onwards, around 36 million citizens over 65 years of age will have their turn. The vaccination schedule for the rest of the population has not yet been completed. Japan, with a population of 126 million, is the last of the G7 countries to start vaccinating against the coronavirus.

The reason for this is also a high level of skepticism among the population. Kunishima Hiroyuki, professor at St. Marianna Medical University and director of the Center for Infectious Diseases there, says Japanese people are generally cautious about the safety of vaccines.

There is also uncertainty in the corona pandemic because the vaccines from Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna are a new type of mRNA vaccine. Since only a small proportion of the clinical test subjects were Asians, Biontech / Pfizer carried out clinical studies with 160 Japanese people from October onwards. The application for permission to manufacture and sell was filed in Japan on December 18th. Tokyo only granted approval after the data from the domestic studies were available in mid-January. The manufacturers Moderna and Astrazeneca also carried out small clinical studies in the country prior to approval.

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In Japan, memories of reports of side effects from cervical cancer vaccination in 2013 are still fresh for many people. The government had sponsored vaccination at the time with a national program. Reports of serious side effects followed shortly thereafter; False reports, as it turned out later. But the insecurity in the population has remained.

Only 20 percent of the Japanese would be vaccinated directly

According to a survey by the Japanese newspaper "Asahi Shimbun" published on January 25th, only around 21 percent of Japanese would be vaccinated if a vaccine were available free of charge. 70 percent, on the other hand, would wait first; 8 percent do not want to be vaccinated at all.

"The bottlenecks will really be on the demand side," quotes the New York Times, quoting the director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, Krishna Udayakumar. “Can we actually convince people to accept the vaccine, and can we carry out the implementation quickly enough to achieve herd immunity through vaccinations?” Asks the scientist critically.

Japan is under pressure. The Olympic Games will begin in Tokyo on July 23 - that is, in around five months. Because of the corona pandemic, the summer games have already been postponed by a year. A year later, the situation in many countries around the world worsened dramatically with the second wave. But the government in Tokyo wants to hold on to the games in July and August. Even if herd immunity in their own population is very unlikely to be achieved by then.

The organizers want to encourage athletes and other participants of the event to get vaccinated against the coronavirus before the competitions, but there is no plan to do so.

South Korea is expected to start vaccinations on February 26th

In South Korea, the vaccination program is expected to start a little later than in Japan - it is scheduled for February 26th. The Astrazeneca vaccine was approved as the first corona vaccine. However, on condition that the manufacturer presents the results of the last and decisive phase 3 clinical study, which is currently still running in the US and other countries, as the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced.

The Astrazeneca vaccine should initially not be given to people over 65 years of age due to the lack of data on its effectiveness in the elderly. That throws the planning in Seoul upside down - because the vaccination strategy stipulates that older people and health care workers should be vaccinated first. The government has already cut its vaccination target for the first quarter from 1.3 million to less than 760,000. Also because there are delays in the delivery of 2.6 million Astrazeneca cans.

The South Korean health authority KDCA is therefore considering approving further vaccines, possibly also the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. Talks about the purchase of vaccine doses are not yet being held, it is said.

[Read more on the subject here: Astrazeneca's bad image - one in three would rather wait for another vaccine.]

By September, 70 percent of the 52 million inhabitants should be vaccinated - according to the plan. From the end of February around 50,000 employees on the virus front are to be vaccinated. According to this, the vaccine is to be administered to 780,000 first aiders, contact persons and residents as well as employees in care facilities. In May and June, people over 65, other health care workers and the homeless are expected to follow suit.

Government cited safety concerns over delayed vaccination campaign

Similar to Japan, the population in South Korea is skeptical about the corona vaccines. Concern about possible side effects has recently increased. Also because the government cited security concerns to counter the criticism of the late vaccine purchases. Like Japan, South Korea is also carrying out additional tests in the country, which extends approval.

Lee Jae-gap, professor of infection medicine at Hallym University, emphasizes that the vaccination start could be important for vaccination readiness in the population: “How the government deals transparently and efficiently with a potential problem will determine the public trust in vaccines. If people are vaccinated accident-free in March and April, that will be the key to the vaccination's success. "

Meanwhile, Seoul stepped up in terms of vaccine procurement. South Korea secured additional vaccination units for 23 million people on Tuesday - including three million doses from Biontech / Pfizer and 20 million from the manufacturer Novavax. South Korea had previously stocked up on units for 56 million people from the pharmaceutical companies Covax, Biontech / Pfizer, Moderna, Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The ordered units are sufficient for 79 million people - with 52 million inhabitants. "The government has worked to get adequate early supplies, but there is growing uncertainty about our plan for the first half due to manufacturing problems with global drug manufacturers and international competition for more vaccines," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on a television session. Therefore, additional contracts have been concluded.

It is also expected that the vaccination program will start more slowly, as some of the vaccines purchased have not yet proven to be sufficiently effective against the new variants of Covid-19.

[Read an essay here: Why we don't learn from Asian countries - Corona reveals western arrogance.]

The President of the Korean Medical Association Choi Dae-zip believes the government's goal of herd immunity to be achieved by November is unrealistic. South Korea will almost certainly miss its target, he said on Wednesday.

"It was the government's duty to secure enough cans in good time, and they should have worked extremely hard," he told Reuters. "Instead, it was a complete flop in the end." According to the government's plans, doctors are to vaccinate 150 people per day in order to achieve the November target. According to Choi, this is impossible - he is assuming 60 to 80 people.

No vaccination doses have arrived in Taiwan yet

In Taiwan, too, vaccinations against the coronavirus have not yet started; they are planned for March. In November, the health authorities secured around 15 million vaccine doses from foreign manufacturers via Covax, the global procurement pool for corona vaccines. But when the preparations should arrive in Taiwan remains unclear. Several Taiwanese vaccine manufacturers are now in phase 2 trials of the vaccine.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung criticized the purchasing strategy of other countries at the end of January: “Some larger countries are over-buying to replenish their stocks, they are buying four times the amount of their population [...]. We expected that this would happen, but not to this extent. ”At the end of January, the state's economics minister asked Germany for help with the supply of a vaccine. At the same time, she offered Berlin support in view of the lack of computer chips in the auto industry.

On February 10, the US manufacturer Moderna announced that it had signed contracts with Taipei. The country has ordered five million units. However, deliveries are not planned for mid-2021. Ten million units of the Astrazeneca vaccine have been ordered.

There is still no contract with Biontech. Taiwan suspects pressure from China behind delays. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Wednesday they were about to sign a purchase agreement when Biontech suddenly stepped on the brakes. The minister did not blame Beijing directly for the delay, but indicated that there might have been a political dimension to the decision.

In a radio interview, he said that it was his concern that “outside forces might interfere”. An agreement with Biontech is still pending.

A spokeswoman for Biontech said talks with Taiwan are still ongoing. "Biontech is committed to ending the pandemic for people around the world and we intend to provide Taiwan with our vaccine as part of this global effort."

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Taiwan refuses to source vaccines from China. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and claims to speak internationally for Taipei also with regard to the corona pandemic.

The Chinese company Fosun Pharma signed a license agreement with Biontech last spring to develop and market the German company's Covid-19 vaccine in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. From Taiwan criticism of the procedure is loud.

"We thought it would be wiser to speak directly to the Germans instead of going through a Chinese company that has to adhere to Beijing's policies," the Financial Times quoted a senior Taiwanese government official as saying. "As we understand it, Fosun Pharmaceutical intervened when the contract was ready to be signed in December." (with Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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