It has been 100 days as of today since South Korea began its COVID-19 vaccination on February 26. As of Friday, or the 99th day of vaccination, 7.08 million people, or 13.8 percent of South Koreans, have gotten their first dose. Considering current reservations, over 13 million people are expected to have been vaccinated by the end of this month. The government is expecting to reach earlier than its original goal to finish vaccinations for 70 percent of the populations by September to achieve herd immunity by November.
It is true that COVID-19 vaccination began belatedly in South Korea at a slow pace due to the government’s failure to secure vaccines in a timely manner. However, once the vaccine supply issue was resolved, the country’s vaccination rate has increased quickly from a single-digit number to make up for the slow pace in the beginning. It is thanks to South Korean people who have opted to get vaccinated for not only their safety, but also others’ despite some concerns about the vaccines’ side-effects and the country’s advanced medical infrastructure. Another contributing factor was that the absence of major side-effects identified in the countries that began vaccination first.
The effects of vaccination are already noticeable. As high-risk patients in senior care hospitals and facilities have been all vaccinated, the cumulative fatality rate, which once rose close to two percent, dropped to 1.38 percent and there are more hospital beds available unlike the near-crisis situation before. Once mass vaccination for general adults begins next month, schools will be fully open for the second semester and the pace of return to normal life will accelerate.
However, this is the only glimpse of the end of a long COVID-19 tunnel. Despite the high level of social distancing guidelines of banning the gatherings of five or more people, about 500 to 600 new patients are diagnosed per day for three months. As the U.K. variant has spread in Daegu, social distancing guidelines for the city were raised to level 2. There are some cases in which people contract COVID-19 even after vaccination. To ensure smooth execution of the vaccination plan, the number of new patients should be controlled by wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.
Major advanced countries that are about to reach herd immunity are rushing to secure two years' worth of vaccines. Booster shots are required and the duration of immunity from vaccination is yet unknown, and some predict that COVID-19 will not be extinguished and return every year like flu. The government should ensure the smooth supply of this year’s vaccines and secure even more volumes with a long-term perspective to accelerate return to normal life.