Taiwan's president said China interfered in and delayed its COVID-19 vaccine deal with Pfizer-BioNTech

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Taiwan's president said China interfered in and delayed its COVID-19 vaccine deal with Pfizer-BioNTech
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has accused China of interfering in Taiwan's Pfizer-BioNTech deal.Thomson Reuters
  • Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said China interfered with the island's Pfizer-BioNTech deal.
  • Taiwan, once touted as a COVID-19 safe haven, is currently contending with a wave of cases.
  • Tsai has resisted pressure to buy vaccines from China, choosing to deal directly with manufacturers.

In a party meeting on Wednesday, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen blamed China for interfering in the island's deal with BioNTech - the manufacturers of the Pfizer COVID-19 shot - to acquire vaccines.

"We almost completed signing the contract with the German manufacturer, but it was delayed because China interfered," Tsai said.

Taiwan is an island separated from China by the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese government has claimed Taiwan is a renegade province that remains part of its territory, but the Taiwanese view the island as an independently ruled state with its own government and military.

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According to a report from the Guardian, Pfizer-BioNTech has a deal with China-based pharmaceutical giant Fosun. The agreement gives Fosun exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in the Greater China region, which includes Taiwan. Per a Bloomberg report, Taiwan has refused to buy Pfizer shots from Fosun, despite repeated offers from the Chinese.

At a press conference on Thursday, Taiwanese Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said that BioNTech and Taiwan had been close to signing a deal in January that ultimately fell through, according to Taiwanese media outlet UDN.com.

"BioNTech suddenly sent a letter, saying they strongly recommend us to change the word 'our country' to 'Taiwan' in the Chinese version of the press release," Chen said, adding that the Taiwanese government agreed to the request.

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Chen said the Taiwanese government was informed one week later that the deal would be delayed. "It was nothing to do with what was in the contract. There were problems and external factors involved," Chen said in response to questions from journalists.

As of press time, Taiwan has not confirmed a deal with the manufacturers of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider on the progress of its vaccine deal with Taiwan.

Pressure to purchase vaccines from mainland China

Tsai said Taiwan has signed deals with the UK-based manufacturers of the AstraZeneca vaccine and with the US suppliers of the Moderna jab.

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Insider reported this week that Tsai is also facing pressure to purchase China-made Sinovac vaccines from the mainland.

Tsai has resisted calls from the Taiwanese Kuomintang opposition party for her government to make vaccine purchases from China. In a May 26 Facebook post, she outlined three principles of vaccine procurement that Taiwan will abide by - one of which is that the island will only deal directly with manufacturers.

Tsai followed up her comments about China on Wednesday by taking to Twitter, writing: "Vaccines are vital to defeating COVID-19 and ensuring the health of people around the world. We reject outside interference in our work to bring vaccines to Taiwan, and oppose attempts to exploit vaccine supply for political purposes."

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Zhu Fenglian, the spokeswoman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, said China was not stopping Taiwan from procuring vaccines and was instead offering to donate COVID shots to the Taiwanese, according to a report from Chinese news portal Sina News.

"The top priority should be to remove man-made, artificial political obstacles. Without these obstacles, vaccine donations are not a problem," said Zhu.

A former COVID-19 haven, Taiwan now struggles with new cases

After managing the COVID-19 situation effectively for about a year and a half, Taiwan was touted as a poster child for COVID-19 response. Per a CBS report, the country had a 253-day streak of recording zero COVID-19 cases from April to December.

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However, the island is now facing down a surge in COVID-19 cases. NPR reported on Tuesday that Taiwan's total number of cases has quadrupled in just two weeks. At press time, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recorded 6,761 cases and 59 deaths.

Taiwan is also lagging in vaccinating its population: About 1% of the island's 23.8 million people have been vaccinated, per Reuters.

CNN reported that the island ordered 20 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses in December last year, of which 700,000 doses have been delivered. Taiwan's CDC said on Thursday that the country's first Moderna vaccine shipment of 150,000 doses is slated to arrive at Taoyuan International Airport on Friday afternoon.

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