The Taiwan-based Buddhist charity and humanitarian organization Tzu Chi Foundation said on Saturday that it has reached an agreement with the government to represent Taiwan in negotiations to purchase up to five million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Tzu Chi Foundation said that following the agreement, finalized on Friday, it would look to source vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech and then donate them to the government after delivery to Taiwan. Cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng expressed appreciation for Tzu Chi’s efforts on behalf of the people of Taiwan and said that the government looked forward to receiving the vaccine donation.
The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Republic of China, more widely known as the Tzu Chi Foundation, was founded in Taiwan in 1966 by the Buddhist nun and Dharma teacher Master Cheng Yen. With a focus on “putting compassion into action,” the Tzu Chi Foundation is a UN-accredited NGO with some 10 million supporters and 432 offices worldwide across 51 countries, undertaking regular activities in the fields of humanitarian aid, medical care, education, and environmental sustainability.
At the time of writing on 12 July, Taiwan, which has a population of 23.6 million people, had reported a total of 15,249 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 740 related deaths. While the relatively small domestic COVID-129 outbreak has been largely contained, only 3.4 million vaccine doses have so far been administered to the public.*
Taiwan’s government has millions of vaccine doses on order, however shipments have been delayed by global supply shortages and regional political disputes. Recent local media reports indicate that Taiwan has so far received delivery of a combined seven million doses of the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines from the governments of Japan and the United States, directly from vaccine manufacturers, and via the global vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX.
Taiwan’s government announced in late June that it would allow tech giants Foxconn Technology Group and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) to negotiate for vaccines on its behalf, in an attempt to resolve the drawn out and highly politicized procurement process. Both companies have proposed to buy five million BioNTech doses each to donate to the government. TSMC and the Foxconn-affiliated Yonglin Charity and Education Foundation announced on Sunday that they were close to finalizing vaccine supply agreements with BioNTech.
Taiwan’s Cabinet spokesperson noted that the government of Taiwan had been in close contact with Tzu Chi Foundation to iron out the details of its own procurement plan, and as result had reached a consensus to move forward with the application for vaccine imports. Lo added that officials would consider the experience gained from the Foxconn and TSMC applications to help guide Tzu Chi’s efforts toward success. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, reportedly spoke discussed the issue with Tzu Chi founder and spiritual leader Master Cheng Yen via video conference on 26 June.
As a global icon of socially engaged Buddhism, Master Cheng Yen has expressed a deeply held belief that all people are capable of manifesting the same great compassion as the Buddha. She has noted that true compassion is not simply feeling sympathy for the suffering of others, but is found in reaching out to relieve suffering with concrete action.
Master Cheng Yen is popularly known in Taiwan as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Buddhism, the others being Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain; Master Hsing Yun, founder of Fo Guang Shan; and Master Wei Chueh, founder of Chung Tai Shan. These four global Buddhist orders, correspondingly known as the “Four Great Mountains,” have grown to become among the most influential Chinese Buddhist organizations in the world.
* Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center
Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation
Vaccine import bid by Buddhist Tzu Chi group receives Taiwan government support (Taiwan News)
Tzu Chi takes next step to buy vaccines (Taipei Times)
COVID-19 Vaccine deals to be inked soon, TSMC, Yonglin say (Taipei Times)
Tzu Chi signs deal to procure Pfizer vaccines for Taiwan (Focus Taiwan)
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