Taiwan is currently grappling with a concerning surge in COVID-19 cases, with a significant increase of 26 percent during the week from December 19 to December 26. This surge is accompanied by a 16 percent rise in COVID-19-related deaths, with 37 fatalities recorded in the same period.
An alarming trend among the new cases is the fact that nearly all individuals who contracted the virus had not received the XBB vaccine, which has been available in Taiwan since September 26. In fact, a staggering 99 percent of the newly infected individuals had not been vaccinated. Similarly, only one person out of the 37 COVID-19 deaths had received the XBB vaccine. These statistics highlight the urgent need for vaccination, particularly among vulnerable populations.
The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is emphasizing the importance of senior citizens receiving the vaccine. Data reveals that around 90 percent of recent COVID-19 deaths in Taiwan involved individuals aged 65 and older. The CDC cites a Dutch study showing the XBB vaccine’s efficacy rate of over 70 percent in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 among the elderly. While nearly 770,000 people in Taiwan have received the XBB vaccine, there is still a need for more individuals, especially those in vulnerable groups, to get vaccinated.
Adding complexity to the situation is the identification of different variants of the virus. The majority of domestic COVID-19 cases in the past four weeks (73 percent) are attributed to the EG.5 variant, with JN.1 at 9 percent and XBB.1.9.1 at 6 percent. Health officials assure the public that the XBB vaccine is effective against both the EG.5 and JN.1 variants.
A new COVID-19 subvariant, JN.1, has emerged in Taiwan, accounting for approximately 3 percent of local cases. Although its current prevalence is low, health officials are concerned about its potential to become the dominant strain in the coming months. The Taiwan CDC strongly urges the population to get the XBB.1.5-adapted vaccine to minimize the risk of serious complications and death associated with this emerging subvariant.
A case study shared by a Taiwan CDC physician highlights the evolving nature of the virus. The case involved a man in his 50s who had received four vaccine doses and contracted the virus last year but did not get vaccinated this year. The physician suggests that the individual’s immunity may have waned over time, underscoring the importance of staying up-to-date with vaccinations.
The JN.1 subvariant has also been reported in more than 40 countries, constituting about 65 percent of COVID-19 cases in Singapore. However, there is currently no evidence suggesting increased severity or heightened risk to public health associated with JN.1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Despite the challenges posed by the evolving landscape of COVID-19, the CDC maintains its estimation of the next peak in the middle or late next month. Recent studies from the Netherlands support the effectiveness of the XBB.1.5-adapted vaccine in preventing hospitalization and admission to intensive care units.
In conclusion, Taiwan is facing a critical situation in its fight against COVID-19. Vaccination remains a crucial tool in combating the virus and its variants, and concerted efforts are needed to ensure widespread protection. The emergence of the JN.1 subvariant adds complexity, underscoring the need for vigilance and adaptability in the face of an ever-changing pandemic landscape.