The Taiwanese government has approved a plan for tech titans Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Foxconn to purchase and donate 10 million doses of COVID-19 jabs as the country seeks to increase its rate of vaccination.
The decision was reached following a 1.5-hour meeting between President Tsai Ing-wen, Foxconn founder Terry Gou, and TSMC chairman Mark Liu.
News of the donation posted on the Taiwan's Overseas Community Affairs Council website said:
The Friday meeting came amid ongoing efforts by Gou to privately procure five million BNT vaccines through his charity, an initiative the government initially treated with skepticism.
However, with Taiwan facing a continued vaccine shortage, officials, including Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, have changed their tune and publicly expressed a willingness to cooperate with private procurement efforts, as long as they meet regulatory standards.
Local outlet Taiwan News opined that skepticism may be partially due to concerns the alleged philanthropic act is not supported by company shareholders, which Foxconn denies.
The government was pressured into meeting Gou after he posted about donating doses on his Facebook page, publicly expressing frustration at the government's reluctance to allow the endeavour. In the post, he detailed his ongoing attempts to seek permission from the government, claimed the current state of COVID in Taiwan was giving him great worry and sleepless nights, and vowed to use his "decades of international contacts and business experience" to procure the vaccine in a "seller's market".
The cost of the BioNTech procurement effort is expected to exceed $216m. The agreement comes with the stipulation that the doses are to be sent to Taiwan directly from the manufacturer in Germany.
Once heralded as an almost COVID-free success story, Taiwan has faced challenges with the Delta variant and is now in the middle of an outbreak that has killed more than 450 people since mid-May. The government has forced social distancing restrictions, closed restaurants and entertainment venues, and asked its citizens not to engage in an annual Dragon Boat Festival travel that draws enormous crowds.
Outbreaks centred in Taipei that spread to the neighbouring city of Miaoli caused chip companies to suspend operations and set up testing centres for their employees – especially foreign workers – earlier this month.
Taiwan's current vaccine rate is among the world's lowest – just 3 per cent of Taiwan's population of 23.5 million.
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The news post from Taiwan's Overseas Community Affairs Council website claimed the Taiwanese government was close to purchasing five million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech earlier this year, but that the deal was on shaky grounds due to BioNTech's "re-evaluation of global vaccine supply and adjusted timelines."
President Tsai has also accused Beijing of meddling with negotiations that would have secured those doses for Taiwan.
Wherever the vaccines come from, they'll be welcomed around the world if they mean Taiwan's tech factories keep delivering the electronics that are currently in such high demand. ®