Taipei, The take-up of an influenza vaccine almost doubled on the first day of the government-funded free vaccination program for high risk people on Monday, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Tuesday.
The CDC said about 399,000 of the 6 million vaccine shots available for people in at risk groups as part of the program were administered on the first day, an increase of almost 100 percent from 200,000 a year earlier, when a similar program was launched.
The CDC said the highly publicized free vaccination program has raised awareness, which boosted the take-up of the flu vaccine this year.
Speaking at a news conference, Deputy CDC Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said people 65 or older were the largest group to take the flu shot on the first day of the program, accounting for about 208,000 shots, while people aged 50-64 received roughly 100,000 shots.
Based on the first day response, Chuang said, it is possible half of the 6 million shots could be administered in one month, adding that he hoped the remainder will be used by the end of the year.
Under the program, the free vaccination is now available for citizens and legal residents in Taiwan considered to belong to a high risk group.
Those groups includes minors from 6 months to senior high school level; individuals over the age of 50; those with high-risk chronic, rare and serious diseases or severe injuries; expectant mothers; parents of babies under 6 months old; and childcare center employees.
In addition, nursing home residents and workers, medical and quarantine personnel, people working in the poultry and livestock farming sector, zoo keepers, and animal quarantine personnel are also eligible to receive the free flu shot.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world, people appear more willing to be vaccinated to protect themselves from flu, observers said.
On Monday, Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the vaccine can help reduce the risk of influenza infection and prevent severe cases, taking the load off the health system at a time when the COVID-19 coronavirus, which causes similar symptoms to the flu, is still active.
CDC physician Lin Yung-ching (林詠青) said at the Tuesday news conference that although COVID-19 can lead to symptoms such as loss of smell, only about 25 percent of patients have experienced that symptom so it is a challenge for doctors to make a correct diagnosis by telling the differences between flu and COVID-19.
In addition, Lin said vaccination is the best way to prevent people from contracting flu and avoiding the critical conditions it causes.
According to the CDC, the vaccine this year is designed to protect against two influenza A viruses — H1N1 and H3N2 — and two influenza B viruses, based on World Health Organization recommendations.
The CDC said high risk groups can suffer severe symptoms when they have flu, such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, bloody sputum, chest pains and low blood pressure.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel