Foxconn and TSMC are solving a political drama even as they serve their own tech manufacturing interests. The Wall Street Journal reports that the two companies have agreed to buy 10 million Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses on behalf of Taiwan's government. The two are purchasing the shots from Fosun Pharmaceutical, the vaccine's exclusive distributor across the Greater China region, after China allegedly "spiked" Taiwan's bid to directly buy the vaccine.
There was pressure to make a deal. Taiwan has largely kept COVID-19 levels low throughout the pandemic, but new cases started surging in late April and prompted rare restrictions on the island. While infections are dropping, Taiwan has only vaccinated about 14 percent of its population. It will need many more doses if it's going to lift restrictions while keeping cases low.
Tech companies like have offered to buy vaccines for employees and contractors before. Apple helped TSMC buy vaccines for its staff, for instance. A purchase this large for the general population breaks new ground, however — the companies are buying enough doses to inject over 40 percent of Taiwan's 24 million people.
Foxconn and TSMC have strong incentives to step in. Outbreaks could hurt their operations, even for those factories and other facilities beyond Taiwan. That could be particularly dangerous amid a global chip shortage and other manufacturing headaches — mass infections and shutdowns could cause further snarls. A vaccine purchase like this could save the companies money in the long run.