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Taiwan receives 540,000 doses of BNT vaccine with customized labels

ROC Central News Agency

09/30/2021 08:18 PM

Taipei, Sept. 30 (CNA) A shipment of 540,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT) COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Taiwan on Thursday, the first batch to be delivered with customized labels, after the labeling of the previous shipments caused political controversy.

The latest shipment contained packages that were labeled fully in English, including the instructions and the name of the Chinese pharmaceutical company "Fosun Pharma," which has partnered with BioNTech. The only Chinese characters on the labels read "prescription drug" (處方藥物) in traditional Chinese.

The 540,000 doses of BNT vaccines were part of a total order of 15 million doses from the German manufacturer BioNTech, which were procured by three private entities in Taiwan -- YongLin Charity and Education Foundation, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), and the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.

All 15 million doses are being donated to the Taiwan government for vaccination of the public.

The first batch of 933,660 BNT doses was delivered on Sept. 2, and the second one, comprising 910,000 shots, arrived a week later on Sept. 9.

However, the labels on the packages showed the instructions and the name of the vaccine in simplified Chinese (复必泰), while Fosun Pharma's name was in English and Chinese.

The vaccines were labeled that way because they had been redirected to Taiwan after China refused those two batches.

In March 2020, Fosun Pharma invested US$135 million in BioNtech in exchange for 1.58 million shares in the German company. BioNTech and its American pharmaceutical partner Pfizer agreed to commercialize the vaccine worldwide, except in China, while Fosun Pharma was designated as the distributor of the vaccine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

When the first batch of BNT vaccines arrived in Taiwan on Sept. 2, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) accused government officials of ordering the removal of the pallet labels, which bore the name of the vaccine in simplified Chinese.

That order was an indication that President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) administration cared more about politics than containing the disease, the KMT said.

Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters while China uses simplified Chinese characters.

In response, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said at the time that the government had nothing to do with the removal of the pallet labels. That was done by the private buyers of the vaccine because it was not part of their procurement agreement, Chen said.

In August, KMT lawmakers also alleged that the delivery of BNT vaccine was delayed because the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government insisted on removing the name of the vaccine in simplified Chinese from the label -- an accusation the government vehemently denied.

The Taiwan government had earlier refused to buy the BNT vaccine directly from the Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma, citing safety concerns if they were to be manufactured in China.

Critics said, however, that the government's decision had slowed Taiwan's acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines and left it unprepared for a domestic outbreak of the disease that began in May.

Amid the controversy, Terry Gou (郭台銘), founder and former chairman of electronics manufacturing giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., began spearheading efforts to obtain COVID-19 vaccines for Taiwan, and he succeeded in procuring 5 million doses of BNT through YongLin Charity and Education Foundation, which was established by Hon Hai.

Vaccination statistics provided by the Central Epidemic Command Center showed many people in Taiwan didn't seem to care about the simplified Chinese labeling. As of Thursday, some 1.22 million people had gotten their first dose of the BNT vaccine, much more than for the locally-produced Medigen vaccine, even though the BNT vaccine had only become available in recent days.

In a Facebook post Thursday, Gou said that after the arrival of the BNT doses with customized labels, another 600,000 doses were expected on Friday, and 200,000 on Oct. 4, all shipped directly from the manufacturer in Germany.

The shipment Thursday arrived on a China Airlines charter flight from Frankfurt Airport in Germany, which landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 5:10 a.m.

Soon after, two temperature-controlled crates carrying the 540,000 BNT doses were unloaded, disinfected, checked thorough Customs, transported to a designated cold chain warehouse, and sealed for inspection.

That shipment, which has an expiry date of Feb. 8, 2022, will be distributed to local governments across the country, after it has cleared inspection in about two weeks' time, according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

Some of those doses will be allocated to schools for the vaccination of students 12-17, to make up for a shortfall when the first BNT doses were rolled out.

The latest batch was expected to arrive earlier, but due to some scheduling and flight difficulties it was delayed, Gou said in a Facebook post Monday.

(By Wu Jui-chi, Chung Jung-Feng and James Lo)

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