Taipei – Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan’s Foxconn, and TSMC reached initial agreements to buy 5 million doses each of BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, three sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
Taiwan’s government has tried for months to buy the shots directly from Germany’s BioNTech and has blamed China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory, for nixing a deal the two sides were due to sign earlier this year. China denies the accusations.
Last month, facing public pressure about the slow pace of Taiwan’s inoculation program, the government agreed to allow Gou and TSMC to negotiate on its behalf for the vaccines, which would be donated to Taiwan’s government for distribution.
The agreements were reached with a subsidiary of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd, which has a contract with BioNTech to sell the COVID-19 vaccines in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the sources said.
One of the sources said both Gou and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) reached an “initial agreement” to purchase 5 million vaccine doses each with the Chinese company, adding it was not a final contract and it will still take some time to close the deal.
The person added that the agreement signed included “related legal documents” needed to finalise the deal, but the agreement does not specify a possible delivery date, as global demand for vaccines continues to outstrip supply.
The vaccines will be shipped directly to Taiwan from the German manufacturer, the person added.
Taiwan’s government has said any BioNTech vaccines should be “produced in the original factory with the original packaging” and be directly delivered to Taiwan.
Neither Foxconn, a major Apple Inc supplier, nor Fosun responded to requests for comment outside of business hours.
TSMC said in a brief emailed statement it was still a work in progress and “no further information is available at this time.”
BioNTech declined to comment.
A second source told Reuters the German government, which has said it has been trying to help Taiwan obtain the BioNTech vaccines, had been trying to speed up the talks.
“The German government doesn’t want to leave the impression that they didn’t sell vaccines to Taiwan due to the Chinese pressure, so it has been pushing the company to speed up its talks with Taiwan,” the source said, referring to BioNTech.
The German Foreign Ministry declined to immediately comment.
Both sources said although global supplies are tight, Fosun, as an exclusive dealer for the vaccine in China and Taiwan, is able to secure higher priority for the vaccine distribution.
Only around 9% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one of the two dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen, a need made more urgent by a spike in domestic infections on the island, though numbers remain relatively small.
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