The US would give 750,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan as part of the country’s intention to distribute injections internationally, according to US Senator Tammy Duckworth on Sunday, providing a much-needed boost to the island’s fight against the pandemic.
Taiwan is dealing with an increase in local cases, but has been impacted by global vaccination shortages, as have many other locations. Only around 3% of the country’s 23.5 million people have been immunised, with the majority receiving only the first of two required shots.
Speaking at Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport after arriving on a three-hour visit with fellow Senators Dan Sullivan and Christopher Coons, Duckworth said Taiwan would be getting 750,000 doses as part of the first tranche of U.S. donations.
“It was critical to the United States that Taiwan be included in the first group to receive vaccines because we recognise your urgent need and we value this partnership,” she said at a news conference after the group arrived from South Korea.
She did not give details of which vaccines Taiwan would get or when. Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters he was hoping to find out soon which firm’s shots they would get.
Taiwan has claimed that China, which claims the democratically-ruled island as its own, is attempting to prevent the island from getting vaccinations on a global scale, which Beijing denies.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who was standing at Duckworth’s side, thanked the United States for the contribution.
U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Chris Coons (D-DE) wave alongside Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, after arriving via a U.S. Air Force freighter at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan, on June 6, 2021. REUTERS/Central News Agency/Pool
“While we are doing our best to import vaccines, we must overcome obstacles to ensure that these life-saving medicines are delivered free from trouble from Beijing,” he said.
China has offered Taiwan Chinese-made vaccines, but the government in Taipei has repeatedly expressed concern about their safety, and in any case cannot import them without changing Taiwanese law, which bans their import.
The senators also met with President Tsai Ing-wen at the airport, who said the vaccines, along with those Japan donated last week, would be a great help in their fight against the virus.
“The vaccines are timely rain for Taiwan, and your assistance will be etched on our hearts,” Tsai told the senators, in footage released by her office.
In normal times, U.S. senators and congressmen visit Taiwan on a regular basis, but arriving in the midst of an outbreak of diseases on the island while its borders remain mostly closed to outsiders is a significant show of solidarity.
They also landed aboard a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo, rather as a private aeroplane, as is customary for senior US visits.
The arrival of vaccines in Taiwan has been increasing.
Japan delivered to Taiwan 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca PLC’s (AZN.L) coronavirus vaccine on Friday for free, in a gesture that more than doubled the amount of shots the island has received to date.