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BioNTech says will provide vaccines to Taiwan, talks ongoing

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TAIPEI, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Germany's BioNTech SEplans to provide COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan, the company said,after the island complained the firm in December pulled out of adeal to buy 5 million doses at the last minute, possibly due toChinese pressure.

Taiwan Health Minister Chen Shih-chung on Wednesday saidofficials were on the verge of announcing the deal in Decemberwhen BioNTech pulled the plug, though added that the deal wasstill pending and had not been torn up.

While he did not directly say China was to blame, Chenimplied there was a political dimension to the decision and thathe had been worried about "outside forces intervening," hencehis caution in discussing the planned deal publicly at the time.

In an emailed statement late Wednesday, the company said itwas planning on providing vaccine to Taiwan.

"BioNTech is committed to help bringing an end to thepandemic for people across the world and we intend to supplyTaiwan with our vaccine as part of this global commitment.Discussions are ongoing and BioNTech will provide an update."

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, hasrepeatedly sparred with the island over the coronaviruspandemic.

Taiwan has been angered by China's assertion only it canspeak for the island on the international stage about thesubject, while Taiwan has accused China of lack of transparency.

BioNTech signed a deal with Chinese firm Shanghai FosunPharmaceutical Group Co Ltd to exclusively developand commercialize COVID-19 vaccine products developed by usingBioNTech's mRNA technology in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macauand Taiwan.

In return it agreed to pay up to $85 million in licensingfees and invest $50 million for a stake in the German firm.

BioNTech's development and distribution partner for the restof the world is U.S. firm Pfizer Inc.

Taiwan announced late in December said it had agreed to buyalmost 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including 10million from UK drugmaker AstraZeneca, with the restcoming from the COVAX global vaccine programme and an unnamedcompany.(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)