TAIPEI (Reuters) – A deal for Taiwan to buy 5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech SE is on hold, the island’s health minister said on Wednesday, citing potential Chinese pressure for the delay.
Taiwan 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 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 by 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 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 and 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 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 unnamed company.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Jane Wardell)