Too little, too lateKorea’s first vaccination against the coronavirus will take place on Feb. 26 while inoculations are underway in 32 countries of the 37-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Nearly half of Israelis and a quarter of the British have already been inoculated. Israel is returning to normal after 80 percent of its people aged 60 and older were vaccinated. Restrictions on business operating hours are to be lifted soon. In the UK, new cases of Covid-19 are rapidly declining as in the United States, where more than 10 percent of its citizens were vaccinated. Koreans cannot but watch the remarkable developments in advanced countries with envy.
The remaining five countries of the OECD are Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Colombia. Japan starts its vaccination program today, New Zealand and Colombia from Saturday, and Australia from next Monday. Korea is the last among OECD members to vaccinate its people. Moreover, Korea plans to inoculate only patients younger than 64 in care centers and their caregivers, because the AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy is doubted among people aged 65 and older. The government was late in making contracts to purchase Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are relatively more effective in older age groups, or at least seem to be.
While other countries were competing to line up Covid-19 vaccines, the Moon Jae-in administration was busy patting itself on the back for control of the virus at home and encouraging local pharmaceutical companies to develop their own vaccines and cures to fight it. The government made one lame excuse after another for its delay in sourcing vaccines, which were clearly the most important tool in fighting the pandemic. The government and ruling Democratic Party (DP) described a need “to scrutinize their safety.” President Moon said the government had bought enough vaccines while Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun promised to bring in 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines by early February. They were empty promises.
On Tuesday, Chung said Korea will get 7 million doses of Pfizer vaccines in the first half and that the government signed a contract with Novavax, a U.S. drugmaker, to purchase 40 million doses of its vaccine. The Moon administration spent the past five months repeating a promise to bring in vaccines.
Few citizens have trust in its plan to achieve herd immunity by November. Given its unwillingness to accept responsibility for the late purchase of vaccines, the public’s mistrust is natural. We urge the government to explain what really caused the delay in vaccine procurements. That’s a first step to recovering trust from a people struggling to survive the harsh social distancing rules and merciless restrictions on business operating hours.