TAIPEI: Germany's BioNTech said on Thursday (Feb 18) it still intends to provide Taiwan with COVID-19 vaccine doses after the island's health chief warned "political pressure" had scuppered a deal with the company.
Taiwanese health minister Chen Shih-chung said on Wednesday that negotiations with the German firm to acquire 5 million Pfizer-BioNTech shots fell through in December "because someone doesn't want Taiwan to be too happy".
His comments raised concerns China might be trying to hinder Taiwan's inoculation drive.
Beijing regards democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and tries to keep the island diplomatically isolated, including keeping it out of the World Health Organization.
In a statement on Thursday, BioNTech said discussions to supply Taiwan with doses were still ongoing.
"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," it said.
The brief statement did not address Chen's comments or explain why the December deal did not materialise.
Speaking on Thursday, Chen welcomed the news and expressed his confidence they would be able to complete the deal.
"Taiwan has had many business contacts with Germany in the past, and it is also a trusted business partner," he said.
BioNTech has struck a deal with the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharmaceutical Group to bring the vaccine to China and Taiwan.
Foson has not responded to requests for comment.
However, in a statement on Thursday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Taiwan was trying to "circumvent" Fosun and that it was "purely fictitious" that China was behind the initial deal being nixed.
"We advise the politicians of the Democratic Progressive Party they cannot shirk their responsibility by spreading rumours and slander," it said, referring to Taiwan's ruling party.
Taiwan has survived the pandemic largely unscathed - with fewer than 940 confirmed cases and nine deaths so far - by closing its borders early, imposing strict quarantine measures and rolling out effective tracing.
But it has struggled to locate adequate vaccine supplies and only recently announced a supply of five million doses by American pharmaceutical giant Moderna and 200,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX.