Taiwan Headlines, July 23: KMT’s vaccine politics

The KMT is continuing to make political moves on vaccines.
Let me read you a segment of my ICRT central Taiwan news report from this week:
“Nantou County Commissioner Lin Ming-chen, who has been calling for local governments to purchase vaccines on their own, now has the support of fellow KMT-run Hualien and Yunlin as well the KMT itself.
Taitung had briefly joined the coalition, but says it ‘temporarily’ will not participate.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je has suggesting he is thinking of doing the same, which Lin said he “strongly approved” of.
The central government, however, has already ruled out accepting their applications.
The DPP then released numbers suggesting that Nantou had the lowest vaccination usage rate in the country.
This was angrily refuted by Lin, who cited numbers suggesting that the county’s vaccination rate was actually slightly higher than the national average.
He went on to accuse the central government of holding a grudge against him and taking revenge and having no conscience.
He also went on to attack Kaohsiung lawmaker Kuan Bi-ling as a “dog raised by the DPP who barks when told to”.
She replied on Facebook “Fine. I’ll be a dog. Public representatives are for guarding the gate.””
OK, so that sounded better in Mandarin.
So here’s the analysis I don’t do on the central Taiwan report because it is purely a news segment.
Lin’s hyperventilating comments aside, this should be good politics for the KMT, right?
Why shouldn’t local governments be able to negotiate for vaccines, and why is the central government blocking them?
Probably this is, on the central government’s side, about exercising power over local authorities, and concerns the local governments or KMT may try to force the issue of bringing in Chinese vaccines–though the KMT denies this.
But that doesn’t really answer the question, if Terry Gou, Hon Hai and Tzu Chi can do it, why not local governments?
The KMT’s plans, however, haven’t been anywhere near as successful as a public relations coup as they likely hoped.
What’s very interesting is who isn’t on board for this.
Where are KMT’s New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih, Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen or even the bigger KMT-run counties like Changhua or Hsinchu?
Why aren’t they supporting this KMT initiative and chair Johnny Chiang on this?
Clearly they aren’t seeing an upside to this.
Perhaps they reckon it would be a waste of time considering it has already been ruled out.
Perhaps they worry that it would negatively impact their relationship with the central government at time they need vaccines most.
Or perhaps they reckon it would look like they were undermining Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center leader Chen Shih-chung’s largely popular efforts at battling the pandemic.
I’m not sure which of these, or which combination of these, it is–or if it is something else, but clearly their lack of support is sending a message.

Then, the KMT made another move: filed a lawsuit against Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director, alleging corruption in the decision to issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Medigen Vaccine Biologic Corp.
The Taipei Times ran with this summary of their position:
“KMT Disciplinary Committee director Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元), who is the party’s legal representative, said that the procedures to approve domestic vaccines went against past practice, despite Taiwan having access to international vaccines and having no immediate need for them.
The FDA was guilty of corruption as it forced through the approval of the EUA by replacing half of the academics on the panel of specialists, Yeh said.”
Apparently Yeh didn’t get the message that the KMT is accusing the government of blocking their efforts to get more vaccines because they are actually needed immediately.
The KMT is also upset that President Tsai had previously publicly stated the vaccines would be approved in July, prior to the specialists even meeting, with the KMT claiming that put undue pressure on the specialists to approve it.
The fact that the approval came in spite of third stage trials not yet having even started.
The first and second stage trials were conducted in locals during the period when Taiwan was pandemic free, so none of the test subjects were exposed to the coronavirus, which is also not standard practice–though third stage trials are to go ahead in Paraguay, where they will encounter it.
Defenders of the vaccine say the tested antibody response showed it was effective.
I’m not an expert, so I have no comment on whether they are correct, but the KMT does have some good points–and some iffy ones.
The approval process was indeed unusual and didn’t follow standard scientific practice, and the president announcing in advance what the specialists would decide is a bit alarming.
On the other hand, there is no evidence I’m aware of showing corruption–unless they mean by that Medigen will make money.
Not being knowledgeable enough to counter-guess the specialists decision-making process, I can’t determine if the KMT has a case on protecting public health.
However, politically taking on the government’s health authorities–who are still quite popular for their generally successful handling of the pandemic could backfire.
A lawsuit is a particularly blunt instrument, and now isn’t a good time to be distracting key people in the pandemic management command with it could bring risks of its own for public health.
So, in short, much of the public may view this as the KMT undermining the government in a crisis.
And that isn’t a good look.

Image courtesy of 洪文川‘s FB page

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