South Korea said on Tuesday that it had signed deals to provide Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines for 44 million people in 2021 but it would not hurry inoculation to allow more time to observe potential side effects.
South Korea’s Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the government had arranged to buy 20 million doses each from AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer Inc, and Moderna Inc, and another four million doses from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, enough to cover up to 34 million people.
The country’s cautious approach comes as the country battles surging coronavirus cases that health authorities say threatened to overwhelm the medical system, even as other countries are moving ahead to grant emergency use approval for the vaccines in a bid to contain virus transmission.
Britain would start rolling out Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, and the United States and India have also begun regulatory reviews on some vaccine candidates.
Park said additional doses for 10 million people would be procured through the World Health Organisation’s global vaccine project, known as COVAX.
He said in spite of the current surge in cases, South Korea’s relative success in tamping down previous waves meant the government did not need to rush a vaccine.
“We don’t see the need to hurriedly begin vaccination without ensuring that the vaccines’ risks have been verified,” he said.
Shipments of the vaccine would begin no later than March 2021, but authorities would observe how the vaccines worked in other countries for several months to ensure safety, while widespread vaccination was likely to begin in the second half of 2021.
“We had initially planned to secure vaccines for 30 million people but decided to purchase more, as there is uncertainty over the success of the vaccine candidates and the competition is intense among countries for early purchases,” Park said.
The government allocated an additional 1.3 trillion won ($1.2 billion) to the 2021 budget for the purchase of the vaccines.
The first vaccines would likely go to medical workers, elderly and medically vulnerable people, and social workers.
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