CORONAVIRUS/BNT vaccine deal becoming less likely: health minister
Taipei, March 29 (CNA) The possibility of signing a deal for Taiwan to buy COVID-19 vaccines developed by the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the German biotech firm BioNTech (BNT) is becoming increasingly slim, Health Minister Chen Chih-chung (陳時中) said Monday.
There are problems with the global supply chain, so the suppliers wish to slow down the process of the deal, Chen said, while answering questions from lawmakers about vaccine contracts at a hearing of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee at the Legislative Yuan.
"It is less and less likely that a BNT vaccine contract will be signed" since no progress has so far been made, Chen said.
He explained that as time passes, Taiwan will receive the vaccines it has procured, including domestically developed vaccines and "we won't need it anymore if the deal is delayed by several months."
Taiwan will be interested only if the BNT vaccine can fill the gap in local demand, he said, adding that the ministry will continue to talk with the supplier.
In addition, opposition Kuomintang Legislator Chen Yu-jen (陳玉珍) asked Chen at the hearing if there is pressure from China and European countries on Taiwan's procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
In reply, the health minister admitted that pressure exists, but said he is not certain of the source of the pressure. "There are many possibilities, so we are keeping as low a profile as possible," he said.
Chen's remarks came more than one month after he told lawmakers that he was "certain" that BNT will sign a deal to supply COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan. At that time, he said that Taiwan was close to signing a deal with BNT but the latter put the deal on hold due to alleged "outside interference."
In total, Taiwan has signed contracts to purchase 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through the COVAX allocation program.
Taiwan has received only 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine so far.
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