Taiwan suggests mainland China pressured BioNTech to abandon Covid-19 vaccine deal
- Health minister says purchase of 5 million doses from German firm was paused after ‘political pressure’, but says agreement is still possible
- BioNTech has partnered with Chinese firm Fosun Pharma for distribution of its vaccine in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said Taiwan could have clinched a deal last month with German pharmaceutical company BioNTech for 5 million doses of its vaccine were it not for the last-minute objection of a third party.
“Apparently some people did not want Taiwan to be happy,” he said in an interview with local radio station Hit FM.
Chen said the self-ruled island’s health authorities had discussed the supply of the vaccine with BioNTech late last year, and that during the discussions, “I was worried about interference by external forces and political pressure” that could undermine an agreement.
Moderna Covid-19 vaccine nearly 95 per cent effective in second promising trial for US drug makers
“Internal disagreements [about the deal] and challenges about the global distribution of the vaccine” were the factors Chen said BioNTech cited in its response about the deal, which Chen said was “still pending”.
On January 12, Chen revealed that Taiwan was about to sign a contract with an unnamed foreign supplier for 5 million doses.
BioNTech and Fosun did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office declined to comment.
Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned by force if necessary. It has suspended official exchanges with the island since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
On why Taiwan refused to buy Covid-19 vaccines developed by mainland China, Chen said that not only were those vaccines not on the list of the World Health Organization-backed Covax Facility, but there was also insufficient data proving their efficacy.
“Besides, China has never tried to discuss with us about the issue of vaccine supplies,” Chen said.
Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has criticised the Tsai government for refusing the Chinese vaccines, saying it would be better to secure more sources of vaccine supplies.
SCMP Explains: What's the difference between the major Covid-19 vaccines?
The island is also expected to receive 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Britain, through Covax, between late February and the middle of March, health officials have said.
As of Wednesday, Taiwan had reported a total of 938 cases, including 77 locally transmitted infections, and only nine deaths. Only 50 active cases have been treated in hospital.
Additional reporting by Reuters