First Koreans to be vaccinated may be those stationed with USFK

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First Koreans to be vaccinated may be those stationed with USFK

A cargo plane carrying Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines intended for the U.S. Forces Korea arrives at Incheon International Airport on Friday. [YONHAP]

A cargo plane carrying Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines intended for the U.S. Forces Korea arrives at Incheon International Airport on Friday. [YONHAP]

 
South Korean soldiers augmented to the U.S. Eighth Army stationed on the peninsula may be among the first Koreans to get vaccinated for Covid-19.
 
According the Ministry of National Defense on Sunday, talks with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) about possible vaccinations for members of the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army (Katusa) are ongoing, though no formal request has yet come from U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
 
The first Covid-19 vaccines to reach Korean soil arrived on Friday and were delivered to Camp Humphreys, the U.S. military headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi.
 
Though the vaccines, made by U.S. drug maker Moderna, are intended for U.S. troops and citizens, USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams said in a press release last week “all eligible USFK-affiliated community members” would be inoculated as additional shipments arrive.
 
According to one USFK affiliate, those community members include Katusa members and the Korean civilians working for the USFK. Currently 3,400 Korean men serve as active duty members of Katusa, while around 9,000 Korean civilians are employed by USFK.
 
USFK is believed to have received around 1,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine as part of its first shipment, which is enough to inoculate 500 people since Moderna’s vaccine must be administered twice over a one-month gap.
 
The vaccinations for U.S. troops are likely to take place at Allgood Army Community Hospital in Camp Humphreys, where around 40 Katusa soldiers work in medical administrative functions.
 
“Precise guidelines as to the vaccination process are likely to come out on Sunday or Monday,” said the USFK source, who added that the order for inoculations is likely to be determined by vaccine availability.
 
Sources say USFK has asked the Korean Army about Katusa numbers, though no formal process has yet been launched.
 
If the vaccinations go through, Katusa members will become the first Koreans to be vaccinated for Covid-19, amid growing domestic controversy over the government’s ability to obtain sufficient vaccines for Korea’s 50 million people.
 
But there is also some possibility health officials in Korea may block the inoculations, given that Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has yet to approve Moderna’s vaccine. The vaccine received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18, making it the second vaccine to receive approval after Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine on Dec. 11.
 
According to one Defense Ministry source, Korean military authorities will not reject any request for Katusa vaccinations coming from any USFK channels, but said that the matter regarding the vaccine’s safety needed to be discussed with health authorities. 
 
Korea recently signed new Covid-19 vaccine deals with foreign pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Janssen to secure around 14 million doses in total. A contract with Moderna for around 10 million doses has yet to be concluded.
 
Though authorities have insisted Korea will receive 44 million doses in total, officials also noted earlier this month inoculations may not begin until February next year, once the first shipments from AstraZeneca arrive in Korea.  
 
BY KIM SANG-JIN, SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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