Grabbing the vaccinesThe daily count of Covid-19 cases has hovered above 500 for nearly a week. The number has been on the increase after slipping below 400 in mid-March. Authorities think the spread is in line with increased outdoor activities amid warmer weather. Some even warn of a fourth wave where daily counts hover around 1,000. The government is mulling stricter rules, but it cannot easily enforce them amid complaints from the self-employed and public fatigue from a year of mitigation measures.
President Moon Jae-in pleaded for public patience claiming signs of the end of the tunnel four months ago. But we are still going through the tunnel without knowing when it will end. Vaccines are the only light. Israel and Britain are the living proof. Israel anticipates herd immunity soon, with 60 percent of its population having been vaccinated. The British are also returning to normalized lives, with almost half of the population vaccinated. Korea’s inoculation rate remains at 1.8 percent. It ranks below 100 in the world in vaccination progress.
The government plans to speed up the progress by using the stock reserved for the second vaccine group. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vows to achieve collective immunity by November as planned. But experts are doubtful at the current pace of vaccination. There is no guarantee the orders will arrive on time, given the heated competition among states to grab the next stock rolling out of production lines. Normalization of the economy also can be delayed. Korean businessmen could be excluded when other parts of the world return to normalcy.
But there are no signs of urgency from the government to secure vaccines. Experts advise sourcing for vaccine manufacturing to quicken the process. Novavax has already agreed on technology transfer to Korea on its vaccine. If Korea can get the necessary materials, the vaccine can be produced on home turf. Seoul also could seek a swap arrangement with the U.S. by using its excess first and later paying it back when Korean volume arrives. The idea is plausible if Korea fully employs diplomatic and private networks. Business connections should also be utilized.
The government’s task force on the vaccine program has been activated from April 1. Officials from different government offices must put their heads together to use all means available. A radical measure is needed. The government also must be clear with the procedures and progress so as not to face a further public backlash.