Coronavirus: Taiwan firms reach US$350 million deal to import 10 million doses direct from BioNTech

·5-min read

Taiwan’s Foxconn and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company have struck a long-awaited deal with a mainland Chinese pharmaceutical company to buy 10 million doses of BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for US$350 million and import them straight from Germany.

The vaccines will be donated to Taiwan’s government which tried in vain to buy the shots directly from BioNTech and blamed Beijing for blocking the deal for political reasons.

In separate statements to the Taiwan Stock Exchange on Monday, the two companies said they would each buy 5 million doses from BioNTech. Each would pay US$175 million for the shots, cold-chain storage and handling charges.

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“The vaccine doses will be donated to the Centres for Disease Control of the cabinet-level Ministry of Health and Welfare,” the statements said.

In another joint statement issued later, the two listed companies said they expected the first batch would arrive in Taiwan in September to be followed by other batches according to the German firm’s production and delivery schedule.

BioNTech’s Chinese agent, Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, said late on Sunday it had signed the agreement with the two companies, a charity foundation of Foxconn billionaire founder Terry Gou and Taiwan-based Zuellig Pharma, which represents the three parties to import the vaccine. Under Taiwanese law, only qualified pharmaceutical firms are permitted to import vaccines.

Taiwan has signed a deal to buy a total of 20 million doses, including from Britain’s AstraZeneca and Moderna in the US. Photo: Reuters
Taiwan has signed a deal to buy a total of 20 million doses, including from Britain’s AstraZeneca and Moderna in the US. Photo: Reuters

According to Fosun, the deal was signed by its subsidiary in Hong Kong and the vaccine doses would be donated to the Centres for Disease Control in the “Taiwan area”.

“We are very pleased to see that this vaccine jointly developed by Fosun Pharmaceutical and BioNTech can play a positive role in the prevention and control of the epidemic in Taiwan,” Fosun chairman Wu Yifang said.

Vaccines ‘surest way to prevent deaths’ as Covid-19 toll hits 4 million

Fosun quoted BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin as saying the company was “very grateful to be able to also supply the Taiwanese people with vaccine doses manufactured in Europe”.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Gou said he was gratified the deal had finally been struck after he first offered to donate the vaccine to the island’s authorities in late May.

But he said he would not relax because he still needed to push for suitable delivery and quantity of the vaccine which would come directly from the German company to Taiwan.

He denied that Beijing authorities had tried to block his deal with Fosun.

“Since we proposed the deal for donation [to Taiwan’s government], there have been no instructions or interference from Beijing authorities about the purchase,” he said, adding the deal was negotiated according to regular commercial practice.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had accused the mainland authorities of blocking a previous deal for the island’s health authorities to directly import the BioNTech vaccine from Germany. Earlier this year, her government was about to announce that the two sides were about to sign a deal, only for the deal to be frustrated at the eleventh hour.

Fosun, which cooperated with BioNTech to develop the vaccine, has said any deals must go through it because it has the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Beijing, which claims sovereignty of Taiwan, had offered to donate doses of either BioNTech or its own vaccines to Taiwan, but was rejected by the island’s authorities.

On Monday, the Mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said the fact that Foxconn and TSMC were able to sign agreements with Fosun proved that rumours about Beijing authorities’ blocking or interfering the deals were baseless.

“There have been voices from Taiwan assailing the mainland for either blocking vaccine purchases or capitalising on the serious outbreak in Taiwan by using the commercial deal to make political gains, and now all these accusations are proven wrong,” he said, adding he was delighted to find the deals had been struck.

Taiwan aims for 20 per cent of population vaccinated by end of July

Gou said that as the Covid-19 outbreak showed no sign of abating abroad, Taiwan might face new outbreaks and the batch of vaccines coming from Germany would help boost confidence in Taiwanese society and offer respite in the face of the outbreak.

Taiwan has signed a deal to buy a total of 20 million doses, including from Britain’s AstraZeneca and Moderna in the US, but it has only received 2.15 million. Although both the United States and Japan have donated 4.87 million shots of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, the quantity falls far short of the quantity needed for the island’s 23.5 million people.

So far, about 14 per cent – or more than 3.5 million – of the people in Taiwan have received one of the two required shots.

The vaccine shortage has prompted Taiwanese to travel abroad, including to the United States to have the jabs. Some also travelled to the mainland for free shots.

By June 30, about 99,000 Taiwanese had received 174,000 shots of the local vaccines on the mainland, according to Ma.

Taiwanese cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said Taiwan’s Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation was also in the process of buying 5 million doses of BioNTech vaccine from Fosun and if the deal was successful, Taiwan would have 15 million doses of it.

He said the island’s health authorities planned to buy an additional 15 million doses of new-generation Moderna vaccine between 2022 and 2023 to cope with future outbreaks.

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