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Tsai says China's meddling preventing Taiwan from getting Pfizer vaccine

Taiwan deal with Germany's BioNTech on Pfizer shots delayed by interference from China

President Tsai Ing-wen. (DPP screenshot)

President Tsai Ing-wen. (DPP screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Amid clamor by some local officials to buy Pfizer vaccines directly from China, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Wednesday (May 26) said that interference by Beijing has prevented Taiwan from purchasing the shots directly from Germany.

On Wednesday, Nantou County Commissioner Lin Ming-chen (林明溱), a member of the Kuomintang (KMT), called on the central government to allow his county to directly purchase the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (BNT162b2 or Comirnaty) through China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co.

During a speech at an online Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) meeting that same day, Tsai responded to Lin's calls for direct purchases from China by pointing out that Taiwan and Germany's BioNTech were on the verge of signing a contract to purchase the vaccines, but due to interference from China, negotiations have been delayed to the present.

She then listed three points regarding Taiwan's acquisition of vaccines. First, she said that the purchase of vaccines must be coordinated by the central government, in conjunction with its overall epidemic prevention strategy, to ensure the smooth and fair distribution of the shots.

Second, Tsai stated that the Central Epidemic Command Center's (CECC's) principle when purchasing vaccines, such as those made by AstraZeneca or Moderna, is to buy them directly from the manufacturer or via COVAX. In reference to the BioNTech vaccine, Tsai said: "Only by negotiating directly with the original manufacturer can you obtain the original manufacturer's direct guarantee and responsibility for quality and safety so as to avoid legal and political risks," reported Newtalk.

Third, including overseas and domestically developed vaccines, Tsai said that Taiwan has acquired nearly 30 million doses. These will arrive in batches every month over the next few months.

She predicted that by the end of August, Taiwan should have received 10 million doses. Tsai pledged that the government will do its utmost to speed up deliveries of vaccines to enable more Taiwanese to receive shots by August.

Tsai added that Taiwan's locally developed vaccines are progressing rapidly to ensure a stable and abundant supply. On May 18, Tsai announced that two of Taiwan's domestically developed vaccines are in the final stages of their phase II trials and that the first doses are anticipated to be ready by late July.

Early in the pandemic, in March of 2020, Fosun signed a deal with BioNTech that gave it exclusive rights to sell the vaccine in the "Greater China" market, which includes Taiwan. In December of that year, Taiwan was in the final stages of negotiating its own deal to purchase the vaccines directly from BioNTech, but in February Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced that it had fallen through due to political pressure from China.

Fosun Chairman Wu Yifang last week told China's state-run Xinhua news agency that his company was willing to sell the vaccine to Taiwan. Meanwhile, in China, health authorities have yet to actually approve the vaccine for use in the communist country, with BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin cited by Reuters as saying that approval could happen "by July at the latest."