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Hon Hai proposes procuring COVID vaccines amid shortage in Taiwan

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Taipei, May 27 (CNA) Terry Gou, founder of manufacturing giant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., has offered to procure COVID-19 vaccines from abroad for Taiwan, a top aide to the businessman confirmed Thursday, following reports implying the tycoon has already been in talks with a Chinese pharmaceutical company.

Hon Hai, globally known as Foxconn, said Thursday in a statement that the company is willing to contribute to the ongoing efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan.

Gou is looking to purchase the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co. (Fosun Pharma), said Amanda Liu (劉宥彤), chief executive officer of YongLin Charity and Education Foundation, which was also founded by Gou, during a donation event.

Taiwanese media reported that Gou has been in talks with ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Ker Chien-ming and Guo Guangchang, chairman of Fosun International, which owns Fosun Pharma, about acquiring 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from German-based BioNTech SE.

Fosun Pharma reportedly holds the vaccine's franchise for Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and China, even though it is currently only available in Hong Kong and Macau.

However, discussions have reportedly stalled due to political interference, though Liu rejected such claims saying the Chinese authorities have never been involved in the talks.

Gou plans to allocate funds for the vaccine procurement plan from Hon Hai and the charity foundation, as he believes the ultimate solution to the current high COVID-19 alert in Taiwan is vaccine inoculation, Liu said.

Meanwhile, Ker said Thursday that the negotiations with Fosun Pharma stopped on Tuesday, even though BioNTech had expressed an interest in supplying vaccines to Taiwan.

"Political factors" have got in the way of making a deal that would see 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being provided to Taiwan, Ker said, without further elaborating.

The recent surge in domestically-transmitted cases has underscored the vaccine shortage in Taiwan, which has so far taken delivery of less than 1 million doses.

The country has recorded daily infections of more than 400 per day since May 17, and total domestic cases have surpassed 5,000.

Commenting on the recent calls from politicians and entrepreneurs to buy vaccines from Fosun Pharma, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, who heads the CECC, said Thursday there has been a lot of talk but no one has actually followed standard procedures to make a proposal.

According to Chen, the CECC embarked on negotiations with BioNTech about purchasing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as early as last August.

The two parties reached the contract signing stage in January, before the German company axed the deal due to "problems outside the contract itself," Chen said at a press briefing without specifying what the problems were.

Vaccine procurement involves very time-consuming negotiations even if there is no external interference, said Chen, adding that by the time anyone makes a deal with the Chinese company, the vaccines already ordered by the Taiwanese government will have arrived in the country.

Chen was referring to President Tsai Ing-wen's remarks on Tuesday that Taiwan expects to receive 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from abroad in June.

In August, the number of vaccine doses available in Taiwan will reach 10 million, which will include domestically developed shots, Tsai said via social media.

The president also noted on Wednesday that the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines must be handled by the central government, which will source vaccines directly from manufactures or from the global vaccine sharing program COVAX.

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