Taiwan’s Covid-19 vaccine shortage could be eased by plans by Foxconn billionaire Terry Gou and one of the island’s largest religious groups to donate 5.5 million doses between them of World Health Organization-approved jabs.
Health authorities reported 332 new infections on Tuesday – 262 new local cases, five new imported cases and 65 cases delayed by a reporting backlog – bringing Taiwan’s total since the pandemic started to 8,842, with 137 deaths, including 13 new deaths.
Gou plans to import 5 million doses of BioNTech’s vaccine directly from Germany for donation, according to Chen Tsung-yen, deputy commander of the Central Epidemic Command Centre.
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The Buddha’s Light International Association, an affiliate of Fo Guang Shan Monastery, based in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, has submitted documents to the Taiwanese health ministry expressing its intent to apply for the import of 500,000 doses of US firm Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, also for donation to the island’s government.
“We twice held meetings with the representative of Fo Guang Shan on Monday to discuss the issue and we would do our best to assist them,” Chen said on Tuesday.
He said a representative of the Buddhist group would authorise a pharmaceutical agent to import the doses on its behalf. Under Taiwan’s laws, only pharmaceutical firms are allowed to import vaccines, and they must submit plans detailing the quantity, efficacy and storage arrangements.
Chen said three further groups had also been in contact with the centre offering to donate vaccines, but did not identify them.
However, he confirmed that Gou had been in contact with Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua regarding his plan. Chen said the economics ministry was responsible for handling imports or donations of vaccines by the business sector.
Gou’s Yong Lin Foundation and Foxconn Technology – the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer – have prepared all the necessary documents to import the jabs and on Tuesday applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, the foundation said in a statement.
Taiwanese health minister Chen Shih-chung said the authorities would facilitate Gou’s import of the shots.
The self-ruled island’s authorities were initially reluctant to allow private imports of vaccines, but have eased the rules in response to mounting pressure from the public and politicians over a shortage of jabs. Less than 2 per cent of the island’s 23.5 million people have been vaccinated.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang on Monday asked the economics ministry and the command centre to help those trying to donate and the FDA to speed up screening of applications.
Taiwan has so far received 870,000 vaccine doses – 720,000 from British firm AstraZeneca and 150,000 from US-based Moderna. It has signed deals to buy 10 million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and more than 4.7 million doses via the Covax Facility.
It has also signed deals with Taiwan’s Medigen Vaccine Biologics and United Biomedical for 5 million doses apiece, and agreed verbally to buy a further 5 million of each. The decision drew criticism because the vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials.
On Tuesday, Chen, the health minister, said the soft lockdown imposed by the command centre since May 15 had helped limit the number of local infections.
“This is the result of the joint efforts of the public over the past 14 days, but does not mean we can let our guard down,” he said.
The centre has stopped short of imposing a full lockdown during the recent outbreak, but raised the alert to the third level of its four-tier system, requiring people to stay at home as much as possible and strictly observe rules on distancing and mask wearing until June 14.
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