Taipei, March 3 (CNA) A total of 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Taiwan and will first be administered to health care workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Wednesday.
The vaccines arrived at Taoyuan International Airport at around 10:21 a.m. on a Korean Air flight. They have been transported to a cold storage facility and are being kept at temperatures of 2-8 degrees Celsius, the CECC said.
Although sources initially said the shipment was from the COVAX allocation program, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung, who heads the CECC, said at a press briefing that it was part of the 10 million doses that Taiwan has ordered directly from AstraZeneca.
What happens now?
Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already begun its inspection process for the vaccines, which usually takes 30 to 40 days, Chen said.
That process has been sped up internationally during the pandemic, but Chen said it was unlikely that it could be shortened to as few as seven days, which is what FDA officials have told reporters.
"Because this is the first batch, I believe we will be cautious in the inspection process," he said.
He declined to give an estimate as to when vaccine distribution would officially begin.
After the inspection process is complete, the doses will be transported to 100-200 medical centers across Taiwan, and those eligible to receive it will be able to reserve time slots to get the shots.
The 117,000 doses of the vaccine will be used as the first of two doses needed for 117,000 people in Taiwan, Chen said.
These individuals will receive the second dose of the vaccine a minimum of eight weeks after the first shot, Chen said, though he did not say when a second shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive.
Who gets the vaccine first?
The CECC previously announced a priority list of 10 categories of people. On Wednesday, it released a more detailed version of the first category, breaking it into four distinct groups.
The top priority group are medical workers and other frontline personnel who directly test or take care of COVID-19 patients or those suspected of having the disease, estimated at 50,176 people.
The second group, consisting of 127,677 people, are medical workers and other personnel who work at hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients, but who work with patients who do not have COVID-19.
The third group are the 77,658 people who work at hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients but do not work directly with any patients.
The fourth group, consisting of 56,263 people, are those who work at medical facilities that do not treat COVID-19 patients.
People who get the vaccine will be required to stay at the place where they get it for at least half an hour so they can be helped if they have a severe allergic reaction, Chen said.
Other vaccines purchased
Taiwan has signed contracts to purchase a total of 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX.
COVAX has previously said it will allocate 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan in its first round of distribution, but it has not yet informed Taiwan when these will arrive, Chen said Wednesday.
Taiwan is also currently talking with the German firm BioNTech to purchase 5 million doses of its vaccine, after such a deal fell through in December last year.