In the middle of May, US President Joe Biden announced a COVID-19 vaccine aid program with the goal of delivering 80 million doses by the end of last month. Early this month, almost 30 million doses had been delivered, about one-third of the original commitment. Taiwan sticks out among the target countries, as it quickly received a large number of doses.
On June 2, during the first stage of the program, the US said that it would provide 25 million doses through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing program to various regions of the world.
Taiwan was listed as a target country in the Asia-Pacific region, alongside India and Nepal. Canada, Mexico and South Korea were also listed as priority recipients.
US neighbors Canada and Mexico received 1 million and 1.3 million doses respectively, while South Korea received 1 million doses, following a personal visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the White House.
Canada and South Korea are the only two target countries with a higher national average income than Taiwan.
Two of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in Central and South America, Honduras and Paraguay, received 1.5 million doses and 1 million doses respectively. This was closely linked to the US’ policy of counteracting Beijing’s use of vaccine diplomacy to expand its geopolitical interests, as the president of Honduras has said that he would not hesitate to set up a commercial office in China in exchange for Chinese vaccines.
The program’s second batch was announced on June 21, with 55 million doses to be distributed through COVAX to countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, with priority given to Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia.
For example, in Indonesia, the number of daily confirmed cases on Wednesday last week exceeded 34,000, and the collapse of the country’s healthcare system is imminent, prompting the US to promise 4 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
Brazil, where the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is spreading, received 3 million doses.
Indonesia and Brazil are the only two countries that have received more doses through the program than Taiwan, and each has a population of more than 200 million people.
The countries originally listed to receive doses from the first batch, whether India, Nepal or African countries, have yet to receive their doses. The vaccines promised to Vietnam, which is part of the second stage, were expected to be delivered last weekend.
The White House has said that logistical and regulatory barriers have slowed the pace of its vaccine diplomacy, but that all promised doses would be shipped once the issues, including complex legal regulations, customs clearance procedures and cold chain logistics, have been resolved.
For example, India did not approve the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine until late last month, when the vaccine finally cleared legal hurdles.
When Taiwan’s access to vaccines seemed cut off, a delegation, including two US senators, traveled to Taiwan on a military aircraft to announce a US donation of 750,000 doses. The donation was later expanded to 2.5 million vaccines, more than three times the original commitment, and the US deliberately bypassed COVAX to avoid unnecessary interference.
Thanks to Taiwan’s efficient public health system, Taiwanese are being vaccinated. All Taiwanese should be grateful for the rare exceptions that made this possible, and not take it for granted.
Chen Yung-chang is the manager of a private company.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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