Covid-19 vaccines: Beijing blocked Taiwan’s deal with BioNTech, Tsai Ing-wen says

·3-min read

Beijing was instrumental in preventing Taiwan signing a deal to buy Covid-19 vaccines from German firm BioNTech, the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday.

“Taiwan was close to sealing the deal with the German plant, but because of China’s intervention, we still can’t sign the contract,” she told a meeting of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Taipei had previously “smoothly” ordered shots from AstraZeneca in Britain and Moderna in the United States, she said.

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This is the first time Taiwan has directly accused Beijing of blocking a deal with BioNTech.

When asked to comment on the matter, the German firm said: “We generally do not comment on potential or ongoing discussions to provide vaccine doses.”

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group signed a deal with BioNTech last year to supply its mRNA vaccines to mainland China, and in March offered to supply some of those doses to Taiwan. Under the deal, Fosun was given the exclusive rights to develop and commercialise the vaccines in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Taiwan reported 635 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Wednesday, as authorities searched for more than 300 people who tested positive at hospital but effectively went missing after it was discovered the contact information they had provided was fake or illegible.

The spike in infections has left the island’s government scrambling for vaccine supplies and it has appealed for support both from manufacturers and the United States.

Taiwan, which is home to about 23 million people, has so far received 700,000 AstraZeneca shots via the Covax Facility, and less than 1 per cent of its population has been vaccinated. It has yet to receive any of the shots it ordered from Moderna.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not comment on Tsai’s claim but said the channels for Taiwan to obtain vaccines from the mainland were “unimpeded”.

Less than 1 per cent of Taiwan’s 23 million people have been vaccinated. Photo: EPA-EFE
Less than 1 per cent of Taiwan’s 23 million people have been vaccinated. Photo: EPA-EFE

Meanwhile, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian said two non-governmental bodies in Shanghai and Jiangsu had agreed to donate a batch of vaccines to Taiwan.

“We support and will assist the donation,” she said, without specifying the manufacturer or how many doses would be supplied. “We hope that relevant parties in Taiwan will clear obstacles for the delivery to take place as soon as possible.”

Zhu also criticised Taiwan for not accepting aid from Beijing.

“Do you want the Chinese vaccine recognised by the World Health Organization [WHO] or not? Will you listen to or ignore Taiwan people’s will to use Chinese vaccines?”

The WHO has granted emergency approval for a vaccine made by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm.

Fosun on Saturday repeated an offer it first made in March to supply Taiwan with BioNTech vaccines. Taipei rejected the initial offer, saying it would discuss the procurement issue directly with the German company.

Tsai said earlier this month that a locally developed Covid-19 vaccine would be ready for use by the end of July. Phase 2 clinical trials of the candidates were almost complete, she said, without elaborating.

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