China beats Taiwan to the punch in announcing new vaccine delivery

China beat Taiwan to the punch on Wednesday in announcing the delivery timetable for a highly politicised order of COVID-19 vaccines from BioNTech SE, saying the first 932,000 shots would arrive in Taiwan on Thursday.

Taiwan has blamed China for blocking an original order from the German firm earlier this year – charges Beijing has angrily denied.

Taiwan’s government subsequently allowed major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn – formally Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd – as well as its high profile billionaire founder Terry Gou, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, to negotiate on its behalf for the vaccine.

A $350 million deal for 10 million doses was signed in July. They will be donated to the government for distribution.

In a brief report shortly before Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung begun his daily news briefing in Taipei, China’s official Xinhua news agency said the vaccines would leave Luxembourg on Wednesday and were expected to arrive in Taiwan on Thursday morning.

It noted the vaccines were being provided by Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, which has the right to sell the shots on BioNTech’s behalf in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

A second delivery of around 910,000 doses would arrive next week, Xinhua added.

The vaccines are made in Germany and are coming from there.

Chen told reporters the aircraft had already departed and would arrive early morning on Thursday, though he offered no comment on Xinhua making the announcement before Taiwan’s government could.

Gou’s office said he would be represented at the airport by his cousin Sophie Chang, who is also the wife of TSMC’s founder Morris Chang. Gou is currently in quarantine after returning from a trip to Europe.

The BioNTech drama has dominated headlines in Taiwan, especially after Gou got involved.

Taiwan is getting the shots, jointly developed with Pfizer Inc, earlier than expected as a delay in regulatory approval of the shot for use in mainland China made a surplus available for the island. The vaccine is approved for use in Chinese-run Hong Kong and Macau.

While a relatively small domestic coronavirus outbreak is well under control in Taiwan, only around 5% of its 23.5 million people are fully vaccinated, though the government has millions of vaccines on order.

More than 10 million vaccine doses have arrived in Taiwan to date, split between Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, while local developer Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp’s shots have also started to be administered.

A Taiwanese Buddhist group has also ordered 5 million doses from BioNTech. (Reuters)

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