Dearth of vaccinesConcerns are deepening about expected shortages of Covid-19 vaccines in April and May due to delayed supplies from global vaccine companies. If that happens, the Moon Jae-in administration can hardly achieve its original goal of inoculating 70 percent of the entire population against the coronavirus by September and reach herd immunity by November at the latest. The government must recognize the dire reality and draw up emergency measures to minimize the shortage in vaccine supplies as early as possible.
The government’s vaccination campaign started on February 26. As of March 11, only 0.96 percent of the population — or 500,635 citizens — got their first shots. Announcing its vaccination plan at the end of January, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) promised to vaccinate 1.3 million citizens in the first quarter, 9 million in the second, and 33.25 million in the third and fourth quarters.
The current pace of inoculation, however, falls way short of those original goals. For instance, the KDCA planned to vaccinate 1.3 million citizens in the first quarter, but it only secured vaccines for 800,000.
A bigger problem is uncertain vaccine supply schedules from April. From the second quarter, vaccines for 4.8 million Koreans will be supplied, but that’s only half the level set by the KDCA for the quarter. In fact, only 500,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines and 190,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines are to be supplied in the second quarter. Johnson & Johnson reportedly notified KDCA of a plan to supply its Janssen vaccines from May instead of April in order to distribute them to other countries, including the United States, first. All these development herald a vaccine crisis next month.
As the success of vaccinations depends on speed, it could cause a serious problem if vaccines are not supplied smoothly. For example, if the delayed supplies arrive in Korea in the third quarter, it could trigger an inoculation “bottleneck” that strains our medical system.
The government spent a lot of time patting itself on the back for its relatively successful quarantine measures. The government must devise contingency plans to obtain enough vaccines. In the face of a critical lack of vaccines, hospitals and public health centers across the country are inoculating up to 13 citizens with AstraZeneca vaccine doses for 10. This cannot be a solution.
The government announces new social distancing guidelines today. Given the number of daily cases is stuck in the range of 400, the government needs to extend a ban on gatherings of five people or more in the Seoul metropolitan area, in particular.