Chance for Moon to shineKorea will finally start its vaccine program on Friday, but doubts and jitters over the jabs remain strong. More than half — 52.8 percent — of poll respondents said they won’t rush to get the shots due to lingering disputes over the safety and efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccines.
The government will soon choose the first person to receive the shot amid a heated debate. Given the level of public distrust, a high-profile figure in the leadership can volunteer to get it first.
Politicians suggest President Moon Jae-in get the first shot. It is his choice, but it could offer a good opportunity for the president to show his leadership and political sensitivity. Doctor-turned-politician Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, running for Seoul mayor, has offered to join one of the first groups to get inoculated.
But wrangling over who gets the first shot is wasteful. It is only adding to the scare over the vaccine. The opposition should not press the president to get the first shot, and the ruling party also should not react to the suggestion by saying the president is not a “guinea pig.”
Overseas cases can be benchmarked here. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vaccinated live on TV as the first Israeli to get the Pfizer vaccine. Indonesian President Joko Widodo was the first in the country to receive the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine. U.S. President Joe Biden, 78, also got the jab within the first week of vaccinations.
A political leader does not have to be the first to get the shot. In Britain, it was a 90-year-old woman, and in the United States, it was a nurse.
Countries like Israel, Switzerland, Britain and Italy that have progressed in vaccine programs have eased — or plan to loosen — their lockdowns. Life will normalize faster if the vaccine program progresses well. Korea also must reduce infections and ease social distancing measures through its vaccine program.
The Korea Agency for Disease Control and Prevention hopes to achieve herd immunity by November after vaccinating 70 percent of the population by September.
The controversy over who receives the first shot stems from the public’s distrust in the government. The government must try to redeem public confidence that it lost due to the delay in purchasing Covid-19 vaccines.