Shortage of shotsConcerns about shortages of Covid-19 vaccine supplies are deepening in Korea, which started vaccinating its people much later than developed countries. The time has come for the government to double-check its overly optimistic vaccination schedule and amend it to reflect reality.
As of Monday, a total of 793,955 citizens received their first shots. That figure accounts for only 1.5 percent of the whole population. In terms of inoculations per 1 million people, Korea ranked a pitiful 105th. In particular, the number of vaccinated people is only 2.1 percent of 70 percent of the entire population, the threshold for forming herd immunity. In Korea, AstraZeneca vaccines started rolling out from Feb. 26 followed by Pfizer vaccines the next day, but the speed of inoculations fell way short of our expectations.
The bigger problem is a critical dearth of vaccines. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced Monday that 690,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to be supplied by Covax in March was delayed and only 430,000 doses will arrive in Korea in the third week of April. KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said the delay was caused by international vaccine shortages.
More accurately, the delay can be attributed to ‘vaccine nationalism’ in the United States and the European Union. Prioritization of domestic demand over exports caused the problem. In fact, Johnson & Johnson, an American pharmaceutical company that produces Janssen Covid-19 vaccines, changed its position and plans to supply less than 1 million doses to Korea in the second quarter.
The government planned to vaccinate 11.5 million people in the second quarter, but the vaccines it secured can cover only 70 percent of them. If this situation continues, many citizens will not get a shot. The government failed to draw up a reasonable plan last year to obtain Covid-19 vaccines.
As of March 25, the total number of Covid-19 cases exceeded 100,000 in Korea. Given the slow speed of vaccinations and the number of new cases hovering 500 on a daily basis, concerns are growing about a possible fourth wave. The government has extended its ban on gatherings of more than four for two more weeks. It must avoid the double whammy of quarantine and vaccination failures. If the government’s vaccination strategy fails, the public’s patience will run out. The government must come up with emergency plans to assuage public concerns.