Essential travelers invited to the head of vaccine line
People who need to travel overseas for essential business will be given priority for Covid-19 vaccine shots and can apply starting next week, announced health authorities Wednesday.
This includes public officials, soldiers. business people and athletes traveling to participate in international sports events, including the Tokyo Summer Olympics, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said in a coronavirus briefing, “We have established procedures to administer vaccines for those who have to travel due to essential public service or important economic activity before leaving the country.”
Priority will be given to those traveling for “business that is directly related to national interests,” as well as deployment of troops overseas and diplomats.
This includes people traveling abroad for under three months for “public purposes” including athletes competing in the Olympics. This plan takes into consideration that some vaccines require two doses and could take up to two months for antibodies to form.
People traveling for essential business can begin applying to related government agencies starting March 17 and, after approval by the related ministry and the KDCA, will be able to get inoculated at a nearby vaccination center.
Health officials Wednesday also approved the use of reserved second doses of Covid-19 vaccines to administer to people as first jabs to speed along the country’s inoculation process.
The KDCA said that the option of offering second dose reserves to first-time vaccines recipients will be made as long as the supply is secure and there is no impact on the administering of the second jabs.
AstraZeneca’s viral vector vaccine’s two doses are recommended to be administered eight weeks apart, but health officials said it would increase the interval up to 12 weeks, which fall in line with experts’ recommendations.
Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine is recommended to be administered at a three-week interval.
There are now a total of 15 people reported to have died after receiving vaccines, said the KDCA, adding two deaths of people who were administered AstraZeneca shots.
Health authorities reviewed inoculation plans including whether to authorize the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for people 65 and older and will announce the results Thursday.
So far, 446,941 people have been inoculated since the start of Korea’s Covid-19 vaccination program 12 days ago, adding 6,662 more people as of Tuesday midnight, according to the KDCA. Of these people, 438,890 received AstraZeneca shots and 8,051 got Pfizer shots.
More batches of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are set for delivery later this month.
Cases were up from 446 the previous day as Korea continues to see clusters both in the metropolitan area and outside Seoul, including at major livestock and seafood cooperative markets.
Korea reported three more fatalities, raising the total death toll to 1,648.
There were 18 new imported cases.
There were 452 local infections, of which 132 cases were reported in Seoul, 199 in Gyeonggi and 23 in Incheon. Outside the metropolitan area, Ulsan reported 21 cases, Gangwon 20, North Chungcheong 18 and Busan seven.
The Busan Cooperative Fish Market, the country’s largest seafood distribution market, added one more case bringing the total to 14 as of Wednesday. Covid-19 test results for around 550 people are pending.
Another cooperative market for livestock in Anseong, Gyeonggi, added 20 cases, raising the total to 97 infections.
Health authorities are set to decide Friday whether to extend the current social distancing restrictions, which places greater Seoul under Level 2, the third highest in a five-tier scheme, while other regions are placed under Level 1.5 through at least Sunday.
The government has been working on a new four-tier scheme meant to give more leeway to small businesses, but that will be after the daily level of cases is brought down.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]