Taiwan says plans to sign up for 'COVAX' vaccine allocation scheme

FILE PHOTO: A small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine" sticker stands near a medical syringe in front of displayed "Coronavirus COVID-19" words in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will sign up to the “COVAX” global vaccine allocation plan to ensure it will be able to access a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available, the island’s health minister said on Saturday.

Chen Shih-chung told reporters in Taipei that the government had engaged lawyers to enter discussions about signing onto the scheme.

Taiwan is also researching its own vaccine, a process Chen said was going smoothly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI vaccine alliance are leading the COVAX facility, aimed at helping buy and fairly distribute vaccination shots against the novel coronavirus around the world.

But some countries which have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals, including the United States, have said they will not join COVAX.

Taiwan has reported fewer than 500 coronavirus cases, including seven deaths, thanks to early and effective prevention steps such as entry bans for most foreign visitors and tough quarantine requirements for those who do come to the island.

While Taiwan is not a WHO member due to pressure from China, which considers the island its own territory, the WHO has said it is committed to providing Taiwan with the help it needs during the pandemic.

The GAVI alliance is a public-private partnership backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the WHO, the World Bank, UNICEF and others.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Edwina Gibbs