A batch of 933,660 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday as controversy arose over the removal of a banner with the Mandarin characters for Comirnaty (復必泰), the brand name of the Germany-developed vaccine.
Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group (上海復星醫藥集團) on Wednesday posted a photograph on social media showing a banner with the simplified Chinese characters of the brand name alongside the shipment, but the banner was gone when the batch arrived in Taiwan at about 7am on Luxembourg carrier Cargolux Airlines after a stopover in Azerbaijan.
However, when the Food and Administration yesterday evening opened the batch, images it released showed that the simplified Chinese characters of the brand name are on the packages.
Photo: AP / Centers for Disease Control
Democratic Progressive Party members had been reluctant to receive vaccines via Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, with some saying that vaccines labeled with the Chinese brand name are manufactured in China, not Germany.
The batch is the first of 15 million doses purchased by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電), Hon Hai Precision Industry Co’s (鴻海精密) Yonglin Foundation and the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation on behalf of the government.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), TSMC Education and Culture Foundation chairwoman Sophie Chang (張淑芬) and Tzu Chi Foundation executive director Yen Po-wen (顏博文) were at the airport to receive the delivery.
Photo: Tony Yao, Taipei Times
Hon Hai founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) is still in quarantine after returning from Europe on Aug. 22.
Rollout of the vaccine is expected to begin in a couple of weeks, starting with those aged 12 to 17, followed by those aged 18 to 22 who have already indicated their willingness to receive the BioNTech vaccine, the Central Epidemic Command Center said.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Facebook thanked the three organizations for helping the nation acquire BioNTech vaccines, adding that every effort would be expended to ensure a steady supply.
The German Institute Taipei on Facebook also hailed the arrival of “another vaccine option for Taiwanese,” adding that the German government would continue to help people around the world to get vaccines.
Chang, who is married to TSMC founder Morris Chang (張忠謀), said she was thrilled to witness the arrival of the nation’s first batch of BioNTech vaccines.
There were many challenges, but the hard work and cooperation of all parties involved made today possible, she said.
She also thanked BioNTech and Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, which the German firm licensed to distribute the vaccine in Taiwan, for ensuring delivery one month ahead of schedule, even as vaccines run short worldwide.
However, the day was not short of controversy, as Chinese-language media reported that an unidentified member of the ground crew at the airport entered the airplane’s cargo and apparently removed a banner bearing the Comirnaty brand name.
Before the crates were unloaded, the crew member slipped inside the hold when it was only partially open — a departure from past deliveries in which the hold doors were wide open and the contents in full view, the reports said.
When the crates were removed, a publicity banner that was reportedly shipped with the vaccines was absent, they reported.
Photographs of the shipment before it left Luxembourg showed a banner with the Chinese name for Comirnaty, as well as the logos of BioNTech and Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical, and text indicating its contents in simplified Chinese.
A retired senior customs officer said that if the reports were correct, the behavior would contravene the Customs Anti-smuggling Act (海關緝私條例), as the manifest had not been checked, although it would only be a minor infraction.
If the ground crew worker had been ordered to remove the banner, the authorizing unit should be thoroughly investigated, especially as it would constitute an illegal action done in front of the health minister and while the Executive Yuan is cracking down on inspections, the former officer said.
YongLin Foundation chief executive director Amanda Liu (劉宥彤) said that adding a publicity banner is standard advertising practice for first deliveries.
However, as the manufacturer did not give advance notice and it was not included in the purchase agreement, it was requested that the banner be removed upon arrival in Taiwan, Liu said.
Additional reporting by CNA
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