Campaign begins amid fears of 4th wave . . .
With fears of a fourth wave of COVID-19 sparked by a surge in cases following the Lunar New Year holiday, South Korea is preparing to launch its vaccination campaign Friday morning. It hopes to inoculate 70 per cent of the population by September. Yesterday, the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines left SK Bioscience’s vaccine production plant, destined for 1,900 care homes and hospitals across the country. The initial 1.57 million vaccines are reserved for high-risk individuals such as nursing home residents and front-line health-care workers. However, the vaccine has only been approved for those under the age of 65, with the government awaiting further clinical trials of the vaccine for people over 65.
Sudden change of plan . . .
After the successful and swift domestic production of medical supplies early in the pandemic, the South Korean government planned to engineer a vaccine domestically and to produce all vaccines in the country. However, the plan seemed to fall apart as fear of losing control of infections grew in December. Soon after, the government changed strategy and secured vaccines produced abroad to complement domestic production. Deals signed with COVAX, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax promise to procure enough vaccines for the entire population. While the government’s approach drew criticism as other countries rolled out vaccination programs, successful virus mitigation has allowed South Korea more time to study clinical trial results and vaccination side effects in other jurisdictions.
Efforts to produce vaccines domestically to pay-off down the line . . .
Relying on other countries to produce vaccines brings uncertainty and complications, such as delivery delays experienced in Canada. South Korea’s domestic vaccine production will mitigate those risks and could be key in the race to attain herd immunity. With domestic production, the country is also better prepared to respond quickly if new vaccines need to be engineered to combat variants. For now, South Korea’s strategy to vaccinate people under the age of 65 matches China’s plans but contrasts with many other countries, including Canada, which are prioritizing seniors.