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Taiwan suggests China to blame after deal for 5m Covid vaccine doses is put on hold

Wed 17 Feb 2021

A deal for Taiwan to buy 5m doses of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech is on hold, the island’s health minister said, citing potential pressure from China for the delay.

Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said officials were on the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug.

While he did not directly say China was to blame, Chen implied there was a political dimension to the decision and that he had been worried about “outside forces intervening”, hence his caution in discussing the planned deal publicly.

“Certain people don’t want Taiwan to be too happy,” he added, without elaborating, in a radio interview.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has repeatedly sparred with the island over the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan has been angered by China’s assertion only it can speak for the island on the international stage about the subject, while Taiwan has accused China of a lack of transparency.

BioNTech signed a deal with Chinese firm Shanghai Fosun.

Pharmaceutical Group to exclusively develop and commercialise Covid-19 vaccine products developed using BioNTech’s mRNA technology in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

In return it agreed to pay up to $85m in licensing fees and invest $50m for a stake in the German firm.

BioNTech’s development and distribution partner for the rest of the world is the US firm Pfizer.

Chen said BioNTech had not asked them to speak to Fosun, and the deal with BioNTech had not been “torn up”, only that it was “pending”.

BioNTech said in a statement: “BioNTech is committed to help bringing 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. Discussions are ongoing and BioNTech will provide an update.”

Fosun did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s Taiwan affairs office declined immediate comment. China is currently observing the week-long lunar new year holiday.

Taiwan announced late in December that it had agreed to buy almost 20m Covid vaccine doses, including 10m from UK drugmaker AstraZeneca, with the rest coming from the Covax global vaccine programme and an unnamed company.