The president of Taiwan has accused China of interfering in its vaccine acquisition program, as the island continues to fight hundreds of new cases of Covid-19 daily with low vaccine supplies.
Taiwan has so far received around 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for a population of 24 million. While the island was largely Covid-free since the start of the pandemic, an outbreak at the end of April has so far infected more than 5,000 people and killed at least 47. Less than 2% of the population is vaccinated.
Chairman Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan has made successful deals with AstraZeneca from the UK and Moderna from the US, and is engaging with BioNTech in Germany for the Pfizer vaccine.
“We had almost finished signing the contract with the German manufacturer at one point, but this has been delayed so far because China intervened,” Tsai said at a party meeting on Wednesday, in the comments. most explicit to date, after months of suggestions that Beijing had hampered Taiwan’s buying process.
Pfizer / BioNTech has reportedly entered into an exclusive deal with Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company Fosun to distribute the vaccine in the Greater China region, including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Fosun offered to supply Taiwan with doses of the vaccine, but Taiwan said that was not possible.
In his Facebook post, Tsai set out three principles for purchasing vaccines in Taiwan, one of which was that he would only deal with direct manufacturers to ensure quality control.
In August, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-shung said Taiwan had a long-standing policy against purchasing Chinese-made vaccines and other biological products. Taiwanese law allows the government to exempt certain Chinese products from import bans, provided they do not endanger national security or negatively affect related domestic industries.
Beijing denies obstructing Taiwan’s deal with BioNtech and has accused Taiwan’s rulers of sacrificing residents’ health for politics. Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party accused Tsai of spoiling the vaccine rollout.
“Taiwan’s access to vaccines continues to be slowed down by Chinese interference, as they insist that we buy vaccines made in China,” Taiwan Presidential spokesman Kolas Yotaka said. “If you really want to help, don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block the hallway.”
The need for vaccines in Taiwan, an island democracy claimed by Beijing as part of its territory, has become more urgent with its recent epidemic. The second batch of AstraZeneca vaccine – totaling 410,000 doses – was cleared for distribution on Thursday.
On Facebook, Tsai said Taiwan had purchased 30 million doses – enough to fully immunize about 60% of the population – 10 million of which are expected to be delivered by August. According to reports, this number includes domestically produced vaccines currently in the testing stage.
“We will do everything to ensure rapid delivery and offer more vaccines to anyone who wants a vaccine. The process for domestically produced vaccines is operational and will provide us with sufficient doses, ”she said.
“For all Taiwanese, and all mayors and counties [leaders]I realize that everyone is concerned about the progress of the vaccine, especially when the situation seems daunting. So I ask everyone to support the CECC [Central Epidemic Command Center] on the acquisition of vaccines. “
Taiwan has also been in talks with the United States, seeking guarantees for some of the 20 million doses according to Joe Biden, which will be sent overseas by July. But in his farewell remarks on Wednesday, U.S. Representative in Taiwan Brent Christensen suggested that Taiwan’s impressive handling of Covid and the relatively low number of cases meant it would not be prioritized over other hardest hit places.