CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan hospital to begin clinical trials on vaccine booster shot

11/06/2021 07:57 PM
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Medical workers check people
Medical workers check people's condition before they received a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Taipei Friday. CNA photo Nov. 5, 2021

Taipei, Nov. 6 (CNA) Taiwan's Chang Gung Memorial Hospital aims to begin clinical trials in two weeks to determine which brand of COVID-19 vaccine to use in booster shots, a hospital official said Saturday.

The hospital recently received approval from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to conduct the trials, which will see people fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca (AZ) COVID-19 vaccine receive a booster shot from a different brand, according to Chiu Cheng-hsun (邱政洵), who leads the hospital's vaccination team.

The hospital plans to recruit 400 people for the trials, and are focusing on frontline medical workers and airline crew, because these two groups are at higher risk of contracting the disease, Chiu said at an event marking Nov. 12's Doctor's Day in Taipei.

Frontline medical workers and airline crew were also among the first groups to be fully vaccinated with AZ, the only COVID-19 vaccine in use when Taiwan's vaccination program began on March 22. A second brand, Moderna, was included in the rollout from June 9.

Chiu said that many medical workers had expressed their intention to take part in the trials, but that it was more difficult to find enough airline crew due to scheduling conflicts.

According to Chiu, the participants will be divided into four groups, each of which will be given a booster using one of the other brands currently being administered in Taiwan -- Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and the locally developed Medigen.

Three of the four groups will receive a full dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from one brand, while one group will be given just a half dose of the Moderna vaccine, according to Chiu.

According to Moderna, a booster shot of half of a normal dose "induces robust antibody responses against the Delta variant," and both the United States and the European Union granted it an emergency use authorization (EUA) in October.

Under the EUA, a Moderna booster shot should be administered at least six months after the initial inoculation is completed.

The participants in the Chang Gung trials will have their blood drawn one month, six months and 12 months after receiving the shot, so the hospital can monitor neutralizing antibody levels and changes in their immune systems.

When talking about the trials on Thursday, Chiu told CNA that the hospital hopes to have preliminary results in March or April next year.

Although countries such as the U.S., Australia and Israel are rolling out COVID-19 booster shots, Chiu said he believed that medication being developed to treat the disease was more likely to end the current pandemic.

While mutations have created the COVID-19 variants that caused waves of outbreaks around the world, it is unlikely that the COVID-19 vaccine will become something like the flu jab offered to people every year, considering ongoing efforts to develop drugs for the disease, he added.

On Friday, Taiwan began a new round of mass vaccinations with a target of administering more than 2 million shots in seven days.

To date, 74.42 percent of Taiwan's 23.43 million population has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 36.89 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control Saturday.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Kay Liu)

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