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COVID vaccines

Japan looks to send surplus AstraZeneca shots to Taiwan

Tokyo holds talks with drugmaker to eliminate no-transfers clause

A doctor receives a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Taoyuan, Taiwan.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan has entered into talks with AstraZeneca to supply a portion of its share of the company's coronavirus vaccine to Taiwan as the island struggles with a spike in cases.

Japan's agreement with AstraZeneca for 120 million doses of the two-shot vaccine includes a clause barring vaccines from being transferred to other destinations -- a stipulation found in many COVID-19 vaccine contracts. The health ministry is negotiating with AstraZeneca to modify the contract to allow shipments to Taiwan.

Japan has already secured roughly 240 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines -- enough for 120 million people.

"We'll promptly consider supplying surplus shots to other countries and regions," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Friday, with shipments to Taiwan in mind.

The ministry last week authorized the AstraZeneca shot for emergency use. But it is currently excluded from the government's vaccination campaign, leaving the fate of the country's contracted doses up in the air.

The government will decide on possible recipients "by taking into account relationships with Japan," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.

Japan has supported the Covax facility, a mechanism for pooled procurement and distribution of shots that is funded by major economies. Taiwan has received hundreds of thousands of doses through the facility so far.

Taiwan has accused China of blocking a deal with BioNTech for the vaccine developed with Pfizer. A Chinese drugmaker has offered to provide Pfizer-BioNTech shots to Taiwan, but the island has said it will buy only through the original manufacturer or via Covax.

Some lawmakers in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party are urging the government to get vaccines to the island. This was included in a broader set of policy proposals on Taiwan put forth Friday, drafted by the Foreign Affairs Division's Taiwan policy project team.

The team also urged the government to lobby for Taiwan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact -- now formally the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership -- and called for closer maritime security cooperation between the two sides.

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