TAIPEI (Reuters) - Around 900,000 doses of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Taiwan soon, the health minister said on Tuesday, the first delivery of a highly politicised, much-anticipated order whose tortured progress has transfixed the island.
Taiwan has blamed China, which claims the island as its own territory, for nixing an order from the German firm earlier this year - charges Beijing has angrily denied.
Taiwan’s government subsequently allowed major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn - formally Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd - as well as its high profile billionaire founder Terry Gou, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, to negotiate on its behalf for the shot.
A $350 million deal for 10 million shots was inked last month, which will be donated to the government for distribution.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, asked whether the first of BioNTech SE’s vaccines would arrive on Wednesday, told reporters he was not able to give an exact timetable, “but the time mentioned is very close”.
“The number is around 900,000 doses,” he added.
BioNTech, which jointly developed the vaccine with Pfizer Inc, declined to comment.
Chen said that the arrival of the vaccines had “great meaning” for Taiwan, and he would definitely go to the airport to receive them.
“I’ll only go when the aircraft arrives,” he said.
Taiwan is getting the shots earlier than expected as a delay in regulatory approval of the shot for use in mainland China made a surplus available for the island. The vaccine is approved for use in Chinese-run Hong Kong and Macau.
While a relatively small domestic coronavirus outbreak is well under control in Taiwan, only around 5% of its 23.5 million people are fully vaccinated, though the government has millions of vaccines on order.
More than 10 million vaccine doses have arrived in Taiwan to date, split between Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, while local developer Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s shots have also started to be administered.
A Taiwanese Buddhist group has also ordered 5 million doses from BioNTech.