'Made in Taiwan' COVID-19 vaccines could be ready in July, says minister

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker in this illustration taken, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan could begin administering its home-made COVID-19 vaccines as early as July, the health minister said on Friday, with the island still awaiting the arrival of imported vaccines to begin its immunisation campaign.

Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, with less than 40 active cases, but it has not yet received any vaccines from abroad.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told the parliament human trials had begun for two vaccines separately developed by Taiwan-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics and United Biomedical Inc Asia.

"If everything goes well, we could start administering domestically-made vaccines in July," Chen said without elaborating.

Taiwan had agreed to buy almost 20 million vaccine doses, including 10 million from AstraZeneca and 4.76 million doses from the COVAX global vaccine programme.

The island is also getting five million doses from U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc and the government is working to grant them emergency-use approval.

Security officials had expressed concerns over an offer from China to Taiwanese in China priority for COVID-19 vaccines, describing it as ploy to win favour with the island's population.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has not given up the use of force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan has banned imports of vaccines from China, and officials have repeatedly spoken of health "risks" related to Chinese vaccines.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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