CORONAVIRUS/Private vaccine procurement efforts unlikely to succeed: Health minister

06/03/2021 10:29 PM
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CNA file photo showing a woman receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
CNA file photo showing a woman receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Taipei, June 3 (CNA) Private efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for Taiwan, such as the one led by Buddhist group Fo Guang Shan, are well-intentioned, but unlikely to succeed, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said on Thursday.

Chen, who also heads Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), was responding to efforts by the Kaohsiung-based group to purchase 500,000 one-shot COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson.

The plans, however, hit a significant snag on Wednesday, when the company said in a statement to the media that it would only sell vaccines to governments and selected international organizations.

At a press conference on Thursday, Chen said that Fo Guang Shan had provided relevant documents to the government, but when the CECC contacted Johnson & Johnson, it confirmed that it would only provide vaccines through the COVAX program.

"Everybody is very passionate, but in reality they are unable to make the purchase," Chen said.

To date, the only private effort which has submitted a formal application to purchase and import vaccines is the one being led by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), Chen said.

But even Gou, who has said he plans to import 5 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines directly from its maker in Germany, has yet to submit two required documents, namely an original letter of authorization from the manufacturer and a certificate of quality, Chen said.

Earlier that day, CECC official Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) was asked about the CECC's insistence on receiving such documents, which some have argued is impeding efforts to quickly gain access to vaccines.

Chou, however, said that requiring the documents is the only way the government can ensure that vaccines come from a reliable source, particularly as there are many "brokers and scammers" in the market.

Fo Guang Shan, for its part, said on Thursday that it had been successful in establishing government contacts with the U.S. vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson, and that it didn't matter whose signature was on the contract, Apple Daily reported.

Earlier this week, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) asked the CECC to provide regular updates to the public on applications by private interests to procure vaccines from abroad, due to widespread public interest, as well as some concerns that the process of gaining government approval was unnecessarily slow.

To date, the country has imported fewer than 900,000 vaccines, mostly from AstraZeneca, and had administered 562,029 doses as of Wednesday, out of a population of 23.5 million.

The vaccination rate of about 2 percent is considered one of the lowest in the world.

(By Chen Chieh-ling, Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)

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