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Washington holds key to Seoul’s vaccine supply issue

Posted April. 24, 2021 07:13,   

Updated April. 24, 2021 07:13


The United States does not have enough COVID-19 vaccines to share with the rest of the world for the time being, said U.S. President Joe Biden hoping that it can afford to do so in the near future. As the U.S. State Department announced that Washington discussed cooperation on vaccines with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad consisting of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, it implied a link between vaccines and security matters. The South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry has assured that it can be part of such cooperation even if it does not join the Quad. However, it is only met with skepticism about a cooperative relationship with Washington in terms of vaccine supply.

As COVID-19 vaccines have since last year shown different efficacy results across the globe, demands for Pfizer and Moderna of the Unites States are ever growing due to their outperforming safety and efficacy, which makes it hard to purchase them even at premium rates. As chances are the coronavirus may spread periodically every year just as a flu, the market’s preference for the two vaccine products will only be strengthened over time as they turn out to respond effectively to mutated viruses.  

However, only 875,000 doses have arrived in South Korea since the government signed a contract on 13 million doses of the Pfizer jab. Twenty million Moderna doses will be supplied to South Korea belatedly in the second half of this year. As the U.S. and the E.U. have ordered additional doses used for the next two years, Seoul finds it harder to have stable access to vaccines in time because it belatedly rushed into global competition for vaccines. As of now, there seems to be no go-to replacement yet. The AstraZeneca jab of Britain may be a risky choice to make for people under 30 due to blood clot issues. Scheduled to arrive in South Korea in the second half of this year, Novavax of the United States is not yet approved by any other country in the world. Although Seoul intends to consider introducing Russian vaccines, it takes some time for them to get use approval of the European Food Safety Authority (EMA).

All things considered, it is Washington that holds the key to the vaccine supply issue as it can enable stable access to vaccines as one of the world’s major fabricators and distributors. Amid the ever-growing risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Quad plays a bigger role as a consultative body in the vaccine supply market. Indeed, the United States leads vaccine development while Japan and Australia provides it with financial support. India chips in to mass-produce jabs. If Seoul continues to walk on eggshells between Washington and Beijing in the diplomatic arena, it is likely to be ostracized from the vaccine alliance and suffer from chronic shortages. Being cornered during negotiations on a vaccine swap agreement, the government, in expectation of businesses’ role to play, abruptly refers to semiconductors and vehicle batteries as a condition for swapping. However, it should be noted that it is the government that is to blame for poor vaccine supply. Seoul is supposed to use every tool at its disposal to produce tangible outcomes in the forthcoming R.O.K-U.S. summit talk next month.