TAIPEI, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Taiwan could get its first
delivery of BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccines one month
ahead of schedule as a delay in regulatory approval of the shot
for use in mainland China made a surplus available for the
island, a source told Reuters.
Taiwan's tortured bid for the vaccine, jointly developed
with Pfizer Inc, has become an issue of high political
and diplomatic drama, after Taiwan accused China of blocking a
deal earlier this year, which Beijing denied. China claims
democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory.
Taiwan's government subsequently allowed tech giants Foxconn
, its billionaire founder Terry Gou, and TSMC
, to negotiate on its behalf for the shot, with a $350
million deal for 10 million shots inked last month.
More than 1 million doses, which had been originally
destined for China, are expected to arrive in Taiwan between the
end of August and early September, around one month earlier than
initially planned, the person who has direct knowledge of the
matter told Reuters.
"Shanghai Fosun did not manage to get approval so they gave
up their plan for vaccine imports," the source said, referring
to BioNTech's Chinese sales agent Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical
Group Co Ltd.
"The original manufacturer was meant to make the delivery to
Shanghai Fosun, but Fosun had to release them (the vaccines) as
they didn't get the emergency use authorisation" from China, the
Two other sources with direct knowledge of the matter said
the supplies are due to arrive next week, but declined to say
what led to the change of schedule.
While BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said in April he
expected its COVID-19 vaccine would win approval from the
Chinese authorities "by June at the latest", no approval has
been granted yet. It is approved in Hong Kong and Macau.
It was not immediately clearly how many doses had been
earmarked for delivery to China and to which other destinations
the surplus would be re-directed as a result of the uncertain
Taiwan will be among several places getting the orders
"abandoned" by China, the first source said, who declined to
name other recipients that include a European country.
BioNTech and TSMC declined to comment. Fosun and China's
National Health Commission did not respond to requests for
The made-in-Germany vaccines Taiwan will get will have
labelling in the simplified Chinese characters used in China
though not in Taiwan, along with the name of Shanghai Fosun,
according to the first source.
Responding to requests for comment for this article, Gou's
spokesperson referred Reuters to Taiwan's health authorities.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters he could not
say when the vaccines would arrive, as there were still some
procedures that needed to be completed, and dismissed any
concerns about the labelling.
"During this period of time, epidemic prevention is our only
consideration. The important thing is whether the vaccine is
safe and effective," he added.
The BioNTech vaccine drama has transfixed Taiwan and
dominated headlines. While a relatively small domestic
coronavirus outbreak is well under control, fewer than 5% of its
23.5 million people are fully vaccinated.
Taiwan's government has ordered millions of vaccines itself,
from Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and local
developer Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp.
Once the BioNTech vaccines arrive they will be donated to
and administered by the government.
A Taiwanese Buddhist group has also ordered 5 million doses.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard,
and Taipei and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Kim