BioNTech says will provide vaccines to Taiwan, talks ongoing

by Reuters
Thursday, 18 February 2021 09:15 GMT

(Adds health minister, China government comments)

TAIPEI, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Germany's BioNTech SE said it plans to provide COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan, after the island complained the firm pulled out of a deal to sell it 5 million doses at the last minute, possibly due to Chinese pressure.

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Wednesday officials were on the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug, but added that the deal was still pending and had not been torn up.

While he did not directly say China was to blame, Chen implied there was a political dimension to the decision as "certain people don't want Taiwan to be too happy".

In an emailed statement late Wednesday, the company said it was planning on providing vaccine to Taiwan, though did not give details.

"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."

Speaking on Thursday, Chen welcomed the news and expressed his confidence they would be able to complete the deal.

"Taiwan has had many business contacts with Germany in the past, and it is also a trusted business partner," he said.

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 that only it can speak for the island on the international stage about the subject, while Taiwan has accused China of lack of transparency.

BioNTech signed a deal with Chinese firm Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd to exclusively develop and commercialize 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 $85 million in licensing fees and invest $50 million for a stake in the German firm.

BioNTech's development and distribution partner for the rest of the world is U.S. firm Pfizer Inc.

Chen said they had had no direct contact with Fosun. The company has not responded to requests for comment from Reuters on its role in any vaccine supply to Taiwan.

However, in a strongly worded statement on Thursday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Taiwan was trying to "circumvent" Fosun and that it was "purely fictitious" China was behind the initial deal being nixed.

"We advise the politicians of the Democratic Progressive Party they cannot shirk their responsibility by spreading rumours and slander," it said, referring to Taiwan's ruling party.

BioNTech's development and distribution partner for the rest of the world is U.S. firm Pfizer Inc.

Taiwan announced late in December said it had agreed to buy almost 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including 10 million from UK drugmaker AstraZeneca, with the rest coming from the COVAX global vaccine programme and an unidentified company. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Kim Coghill)

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