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Dogged by politics, Taiwan finally receives its first Pfizer vaccines

Taipei: Taiwan received its first batch of Pfizer vaccines Thursday after a prolonged purchasing process that gave rise to a political blame game with China.

Taiwan had been unable to buy the vaccine itself directly from BioNTech, the German company that had partnered with US-based Pfizer to develop the mRNA vaccine.

Workers unload a shipment of Pfizer vaccines from an aircraft at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan.

Workers unload a shipment of Pfizer vaccines from an aircraft at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan.Credit:AP

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier accused China of blocking Taiwan from getting the Pfizer vaccine through BioNTech, saying that they had all but signed the contracts when the deal was delayed indefinitely. China has denied any interference.

Eventually, two private companies, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and Hon Hai Precision Electronics, as well as a Buddhist organisation Tzu Chi, stepped in to buy the vaccines and donate them to Taiwan.

The three organisations bought a total of 15 million doses. The flight carrying the first 930,000 doses arrived at Taoyuan International Airport on Thursday morning AEST.

Even their arrival has been dogged by politics. Local media at first reported Taiwan was getting doses ahead of schedule because they weren’t needed in mainland China, where the Pfizer vaccine has not yet been cleared for use.

 Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, fifth from right, poses with thank you cards after receiving a shipment of BioNTech vaccines.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, fifth from right, poses with thank you cards after receiving a shipment of BioNTech vaccines.Credit:AP

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said last week that he had been told by the semiconductor company that the vaccines would have simplified Chinese labels from China. Taiwan uses traditional, rather than simplified, Chinese characters. However, he emphasised that what mattered was the safety and the quality of the vaccine, not the labelling.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing said that they would remove the simplified Chinese labels after the vaccines arrived.

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