Taiwan received 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from Japan on Friday, alleviating the country’s struggles to obtain coronavirus inoculations as it faces its first severe domestic outbreak.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also said Thursday his government is in talks with the vaccine makers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to obtain more vaccines.
Until last month, Taiwan had been hailed as a success story in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as the island had kept cases remarkably low without resorting to lockdown measures such as school and business closures.
But a spike in cases last month has led to Taiwan’s first period of sustained community transmission, revealing flaws in the island’s containment measures and drawing attention to its low vaccination rates and its difficulties in procuring vaccines.
Taiwan has administered 621,332 vaccine doses as of Friday, according to the country’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC). Prior to the shipment from Japan, it had obtained around 876,000 doses of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines in four separate batches.
Only around 3 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23.5 million people have been inoculated.
According to a report by Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency, which cited a source in Taiwan’s National Security Council, Taiwan entered discussions to obtain COVID-19 vaccines with Japan in late May. The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen mobilized senior officials to negotiate with their Japanese counterparts, who expressed willingness to donate some of Japan’s AstraZeneca stock.
The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, citing government sources, reported Thursday that Japan would donate additional batches of vaccines to Taiwan, but did not specify how many.
Taiwan’s government has said it struggles to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers due in part to meddling from the Chinese government.
Wu, the foreign minister, also expressed confidence on Thursday that Taiwan would roll out domestically produced vaccines toward the end of July.
“When and if our own vaccines are rolled out toward the end of July, I think this will become the most important supply for the vaccine demand here in Taiwan,” he said.
Taiwan’s CECC said Sunday the government had signed deals with two domestic vaccine producers for a total of 10 million doses and had verbal agreements for an additional 10 million, for a total of 20 million inoculations.
The announcement proved controversial in Taiwan, especially among opposition politicians, as Taiwan’s domestically produced vaccines are still undergoing Phase 2 clinical trials and have not been approved for use.
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has sought to use the recent COVID-19 outbreak to discredit Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after months during which the virus was largely not politicized.
Some municipalities and private citizens have also attempted to import coronavirus vaccines, citing the government’s difficulties in procuring them.
Foxconn founder Terry Gou, who ran in the KMT presidential primary ahead of the 2020 election, submitted an application with the CECC to import 5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Other private citizens have said they wish to import vaccines from China, although the CECC currently prevents the import of Chinese-made vaccines.