BioNTech says will provide vaccines to Taiwan, talks ongoing

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

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung on Wednesday said officials were on the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug, though 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 and that he had been worried about “outside forces intervening,” hence his caution in discussing the planned deal publicly at the time.

In an emailed statement late Wednesday, the company said it was planning on providing vaccine to Taiwan.

“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.”

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.

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 Cynthia Osterman)