CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan's U.S. envoy trying to get Moderna vaccines by June

05/15/2021 03:08 PM
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Taiwan's representative to the U.S., Hsiao Bi-khim. CNA photo May 15, 2021

Washington, May 14 (CNA) Taiwan's representative to the United States on Friday said she is working to guarantee that shipments of the U.S.-made Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrive in the country in June, in light of the mounting number of domestic infections reported in recent days.

Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), said that as the demand for vaccines in Taiwan was initially low, she had been focusing on helping procure vaccines for the country's diplomatic allies.

However, the recent spike in domestic infections has raised the urgency of the situation in Taiwan, Hsiao said, and she has therefore been in contact with U.S. vaccine makers to ensure that Taiwan's orders are delivered on time.

Currently, she said, there are two COVID-19 vaccines that Taiwan has purchased through American channels -- the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has already begun arriving in Taiwan, and the Moderna vaccine, which is scheduled to arrive in June.

Taiwan has signed contracts to purchase 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, 10 million doses of AstraZeneca, and 4.76 million doses of unspecified brands through the COVAX program, which has so far allocated 1.02 million AstraZeneca shots to Taiwan.

A locally-developed vaccine is expected to become available in July.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) had said last month that it expected the Moderna vaccine to arrive in May.

To date, Taiwan has taken delivery of 117,000 vaccine doses purchased directly from AstraZeneca, which are due to expire on June 15, as well as 199,200 doses of the same brand supplied through COVAX, which will expire on May 31.

As of Thursday, only 151,997 people had received their first AstraZeneca shot, due to concerns over rare blood clotting side effects from that brand of vaccine.

Meanwhile, Hsiao also responded to the news this week that Taiwan's diplomatic ally Honduras was considering opening a trade office in China in a bid to acquire Chinese COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Hsiao, the U.S. is aware that several of Taiwan's allies are facing vaccine shortages, as well as China's efforts to use "vaccine diplomacy" to pressure them into switching their allegiances.

The hope, meanwhile, is that when the U.S. has reached a certain stage in its own vaccination campaign, it will begin releasing excess doses in support of its international partners, she said.

As for Taiwan, Hsiao said, the country's locally-developed COVID-19 vaccines could take part in a U.S. initiative to expand global vaccine supplies, though she acknowledged that this was only likely to occur in the long-term.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Matthew Mazzetta)

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