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

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Taipei, Sep 30 (ANC) A shipment of 540,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT) COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Taiwan on Thursday, the first batch to ship with personalized labels, after labeling of previous shipments caused a political controversy.

The latest shipment contained packages fully labeled in English, including instructions and the name of Chinese pharmaceutical company “Fosun Pharma”, which has partnered with BioNTech. The only Chinese characters on the labels read “prescription medicine” (處方 藥物) in Traditional Chinese.

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

The 15 million doses are given to the government of Taiwan for public immunization.

The first batch of 933,660 doses of BNT was delivered on September 2 and the second, comprising 910,000 injections, arrived a week later on September 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 both English and Chinese.

The vaccines were labeled this way because they had been redirected to Taiwan after China refused these two lots.

In March 2020, Fosun Pharma invested US $ 135 million in BioNtech in exchange for 1.58 million shares of the German company. BioNTech and its US pharmaceutical partner Pfizer have agreed to market the vaccine worldwide, except China, while Fosun Pharma has been appointed to distribute the vaccine in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

When the first batch of BNT vaccines arrived in Taiwan on September 2, opposition Kuomintang (KMT) accused government officials of ordering the removal of labels from pallets, which bore the vaccine’s name in Simplified Chinese.

The order was an indication that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was more concerned with 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 removing labels from pallets. This was done by private buyers of the vaccine because it was not part of their purchase agreement, Chen said.

In August, KMT lawmakers also alleged that delivery of the BNT vaccine was delayed because the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government insisted on removing the Simplified Chinese vaccine’s name from the label – a charge that the government vehemently denied.

The Taiwanese government had previously refused to purchase the BNT vaccine directly from Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma, citing safety concerns if it were to be made in China.

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

Amidst the controversy, Terry Gou (郭 台 銘), founder and former chairman of electronics manufacturing giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., began leading efforts to obtain COVID-19 vaccines for Taiwan, and he was successful in procure 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 that many people in Taiwan did not seem to care about the simplified Chinese labeling. As of Thursday, some 1.22 million people had received their first dose of the BNT vaccine, far more than the locally produced Medigen vaccine, although the BNT vaccine had only been available in recent days.

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

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

Shortly thereafter, two temperature-controlled crates containing the 540,000 doses of BNT were unloaded, disinfected, checked by customs, transported to a designated cold chain warehouse and sealed for inspection.

The shipment, which has an expiration date of February 8, 2022, will be distributed to local governments across the country, after passing inspection in about two weeks, according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

A portion of these doses will be allocated to schools for the vaccination of pupils aged 12 to 17, in order to fill a gap during the deployment of the first doses of BNT.

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

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

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