'Vaccine passports' on the way as general public starts getting their jabs
Korea began vaccinating seniors aged 75 and older from Thursday as the country accelerates its nationwide inoculation plan.
This is the first time for inoculations to be extended to the general public, other than patients and medical workers at nursing homes and other high-risk facilities.
The first group includes 3,508,975 people born before Dec. 31, 1946. Members of this age group are eligible for Pfizer shots at 46 state-run vaccination centers nationwide equipped with ultra-cold chain storage — required to preserve Pfizer vaccines, which must be stored at minus 75 degrees Celsius (minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit). A previous survey showed that around 86 percent of people in the age group were willing to get the shots.
Park Yang-seong, 85, the first vaccine recipient at a designated center in Songpa District, southern Seoul, came 30 minutes in advance, got his temperature taken and took a preliminary medical examination.
"I couldn't sleep well last night because I was nervous,” said Park.
After the medical staff injected the Pfizer jab in Park's arm, which had been thawing from 4:40 p.m. the previous day, Park commented, "It's the same as other shots. It doesn’t hurt.”
"I was worried because there were a lot of concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines. I'll know [if I have any abnormal reactions] later, but now I’m feeling O.K.”
"I am more relieved since [people said] Pfizer is safe,” Park added.
The safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been a cause of concern as cases of blood clots following inoculation were reported both in and out of the country. Pfizer vaccines also reported blood clot cases, but none so far have occurred in Korea.
Seo Jeong-ok, 86, said she decided to get the vaccine as she was worried that she might infect her family with the coronavirus.
"I got vaccinated because I was worried that my grandson, granddaughter or children might get infected [because of me],” said Seo. "The senior citizen center told me the vaccine is dangerous, so at first I said I wouldn’t get it. But I changed my mind because it’s Pfizer.”
Seo has high blood pressure, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. She said she is also being treated for back pain.
"I went to the hospital yesterday for a fever,” said Seo. “This morning I took a blood pressure pill and two fever reducing pills.”
Seo didn’t show signs of fever during the pre-examination.
After receiving a certification of vaccination, both Park and Seo waited at the center for another 30 minutes after their inoculation just in case they showed any abnormal reactions. Fortunately, nothing happened.
A total of 240 people got their jabs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the center, with around 40 people hourly.
"We prepared four buses for the convenience of patients who have mobility difficulties," said Park Sung-soo, mayor of Songpa District. "We also have safety guards in case there are any unexpected situations."
"We send text messages to check for abnormal responses to everyone who gets vaccinated," said Kang Mi-ae, an official at Songpa District Health Center.
"We are concerned about the elderly who live alone, so the social care team of the community center will make phone calls through the residence property manager. If we are unable to reach them by phone, the manager will visit the house.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Korea will introduce a “vaccine passport” — a digital certification to verify a person's coronavirus vaccination status through a smartphone application — this month to help people return to their normal lives.
"The government has already developed a smartphone application earlier this year that can easily prove whether you've been vaccinated,” Chung said Thursday at a daily meeting.
“Using blockchain technology, the data is impossible to counterfeit, and it won’t store any personal information. We will officially launch the app later this month.”
Chung also announced that Korea will get 432,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccines on Saturday, which was expected to be delayed a few weeks.
As of Wednesday midnight, Korea’s daily Covid-19 tally reached the highest level in 41 days with 551 new cases, including 537 local infections. The country added four more deaths.
Korea’s second-largest city Busan will tighten its social distancing level to Level 2 from Friday, after a continued emergence of cluster infections.
BY SEO JI-EUN, KIM MIN-WOOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]