The Central Pharmaceutical Affairs Committee under the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety recommended the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine but advised caution over the use of the vaccine for people aged 65 or older, adding the issue should be discussed at the vaccination advisory committee after there are sufficient data to determine the efficacy of the vaccine. Contrary to the decision made during the first meeting that recommended the use of the vaccine for the elderly, the panel decided there are insufficient data on the efficacy of the vaccine in seniors. The panel might approve the use of the vaccine in seniors in the final round of discussion but there is a possibility that seniors will refuse to be vaccinated.
Korea is expecting a setback in securing vaccine supplies. According to COVAX Facility, the World Health Organization’s global vaccine provision program, 1.35 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, about one-seventh of the 10 million doses promised by COVAX, will be shipped to Korea until June. The government planned to inoculate 10.3 million people, including 8.5 million senior citizens during the first half of the year. A setback in vaccination is expected even before vaccination begins in Korea. The government should ensure safe and effective vaccination by adjusting priority groups for vaccination depending on the safety and efficacy assessment of vaccines.
Meanwhile, new coronavirus variants have begun to spread in Korea. A total of 39 have been infected with the new variants from the UK and South Africa. Health officials acknowledged the responsibility for failing to notice the holes in the self-quarantine process. There is a possibility that additional infections may occur from the people contacted with the infected. This is the result of failing to heed warnings about the new variants from other countries. Since the new variants spread fast and could neutralize vaccines, health officials should thoroughly conduct screening and manage COVID-19 patients.
Experts believe that the country is standing at a critical juncture ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. With daily COVID-19 infections topping 400, this Lunar New Year holidays will be more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 than last year’s Chuseok holiday (daily infection of 62.4 on average). The government has extend its social distancing restrictions, including bans on private gatherings of five or more people until the end of Lunar New Year holidays and advised people from visiting their hometowns. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an economic and psychological toll on our society over the past year. However, in order to prevent further damage, the whole nation must abide by COVID-19 restrictions to prevent a fourth COVID-19 wave in spring.