Not a sure shot in the armOn Thursday, the Moon Jae-in administration announced a plan to inoculate the public against the coronavirus. Given the start of vaccinations in the United States and Europe and the scheduled issuance of Covid-19 vaccination certificates to all citizens in Iceland, we welcome the announcement from our government. However, we cannot shake off deepening concerns about the details of the vaccination program and its many loopholes.
The four Covid-19 vaccines the Moon administration plans to use could cause confusion for both the public and medical institutions due to different means of transportation and maintenance. The government must listen to warnings from medical experts about expected shortages of certain vaccines. If the government repeats its mistake of dumping flu vaccines last year after allowing them to be kept at room temperature, its Covid-19 vaccination schedule might not proceed as planned.
Another concern comes from the government’s plan to inoculate citizens over 65 at nursing homes with AstraZeneca vaccines, whose effectiveness has yet to be proven for that particular age group. Prof. Jeon Byung-yul, a former director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, worried about possible public distrust of the government’s vaccine program from the early stage of inoculation if it presses ahead with AstraZeneca vaccines for the elderly. We are also concerned about the question of why the government has raised the age for a first inoculation to up to 19 when Israel gave shots to citizens under 17.
Such concerns echo the general public’s mistrust of the government because of past missteps. Last year, it ignored a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases in a detention center in Seoul until the number reached 1,200 in December. Despite repeated warnings, the government failed to prevent a massive outbreak among a missionary group in Gwangju. In the face of strong criticism for not sourcing vaccines earlier, the government said it had concerns about “serious side effects from vaccines.” That was an unwise sentiment to air to the public.
The government must blame itself for all criticism it now is getting. Fortunately, it has promised to speed up vaccine procurement and make public all pertinent information. Infectious disease experts raise questions about its opaque procedure of bringing in and testing Covid-19 vaccines. The government also needs to consider an economic professor’s proposal to first inoculate the younger age group between 20 and 40 after taking into account their contribution to the economy. The government must act wisely before it’s too late.