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S. Korea’s belated response to vaccines

Posted December. 21, 2020 07:22,   

Updated December. 21, 2020 07:22


South Korean Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun announced Saturday that Pfizer, Janssen and Moderna vaccines would not be available until the first quarter of next year, which means only AstraZeneca vaccines that the government already signed a contract would be available. “We created a vaccine task force within the government in July, but did not increase our dependency on vaccines because the number of new infection cases was around 100 per day back then,” he said, admitting that the government response to vaccines was complacent.  

The South Korean government announced on December 8 that it signed or was in the process of signing contracts to purchase 44 million vaccine shots before autumn next year — 10 million from AstraZeneca, 10 million from Pfizer, 10 million from Moderna, 10 million from COVAX, a project for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and 4 million from Janssen. But currently it only sealed a deal with AstraZeneca, and Prime Minister Chung said vaccination will begin in February if early or in March at the latest. But some cast concerns over delays as the deal with AstraZeneca does not specify a detailed timeline. The government’s guarantee to introduce vaccines in February or March depends on a verbal promise of the top management of AstraZeneca to Health Minister Park Neung-hoo.  

The government’s strategy to secure vaccines was to start vaccination after watching side-effects in other countries when it made the first announcement on December 8. But its stance did an about-turn on Friday after being hit by a storm of criticism. The problem is that it is now a lot harder to secure vaccines as advanced countries are competitively securing vaccines for their citizens. The government is liable to criticism on taking a lax attitude even though experts pointed out that it must secure enough vaccines in advance.  

Vaccines are seen as the ultimate solution to COVID-19 that is putting a severe distress to the entire world. It should mobilize all public and private capacity to secure vaccines and prepare for the situation after the introduction of vaccines. It must distribute vaccines, set priority of vaccination and prepare for unexpected side-effects at the same time. The success in the “K-quarantine,” which the government takes so much pride in was thanks to the voluntary participation of Korean citizens. To lessen people’s anxiety and fatigue, the government must take heed of experts’ opinions and prepare for future developments.