BioNTech on Wednesday said that it plans to provide its COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan after Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced that in December last year the German company at the last minute halted a deal for the nation to to buy 5 million doses.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chen said that officials were on the verge of announcing the deal when BioNTech pulled the plug, although he added that it was still pending and had not been torn up.
While he did not say that China was to blame, Chen implied there was a political dimension to the decision.
“BioNTech is committed to help bring an end to the pandemic for people across the world and we intend to supply Taiwan with our vaccine as part of this global commitment,” BioNTech told reporters in an e-mailed statement. “Discussions are ongoing and BioNTech will provide an update.”
Chen yesterday welcomed the comment, saying that Taiwan has long maintained commercial interactions with its trusted trade partner Germany.
Berlin at the beginning of the pandemic showed its dedication to health equity by offering supplies to the UK and other countries, a sentiment that was expressed in BioNTech’s statement, said Chen, who also heads the Central Epidemic Command Center.
Chen expressed his thanks and appreciation for the firm on behalf of the center, along with his belief that they would overcome difficulties and sign a contract to help end the pandemic together.
Asked if the firm’s change of heart had anything to do with a “chips for vaccines” deal, Chen said that the issues are separate.
The Taiwan Institute of Economic Research and other groups have suggested that Taiwan obtain vaccines in return for automotive chips, which are in short supply on the global market.
BioNTech extended a hand of its own initiative, Chen said, adding that the government would maintain communications with the firm.
However, Taipei would not have any direct contact with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group (上海復星醫藥集團), the company that BioNTech has partnered with to develop and commercialize its vaccine using mRNA technology in Taiwan and China, including Hong Kong and Macau, he said.
US-based firm Pfizer handles development and distribution for the rest of the world.
Asked how there is still a chance to sign a contract if the deal involves Shanghai Fosun, Chen said that Taiwan has already signed the deal with BioNTech and all that remains is for Berlin to give its approval.
Meanwhile, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that Taiwan would have enough vaccine doses through domestic and global channels.
Tsai made the remarks yesterday at a reception for National Biotechnology and Medical Care Quality Award winners at the Presidential Office in Taipei.
She congratulated the recipients of the “Oscars of biotechnology,” which added a new category this year to honor pandemic first responders.
After commending the recipients for their accomplishments, Tsai shared her optimism about vaccine acquisition.
“Vaccines for which the government has already signed contracts are expected to be available in the second quarter,” Tsai said. “At that time, priority will be granted to those most in need, including frontline healthcare workers.”
Aside from purchased vaccines, she was also upbeat about domestically developed options, as two companies’ vaccines have already entered the second stage of clinical trials.
According to reports, the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines acquired through the global COVAX distribution scheme is to arrive as soon as next week for distribution starting next month.
Chen did not deny the reports, saying that he was looking forward to the arrival of the doses, but reiterated that the schedule is confidential.
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