Herd immunity pipe dreamKorea faces a double whammy of delayed Covid-19 vaccines and mounting daily cases. If this continues, the Moon Jae-in administration can hardly realize its original goal of forming herd immunity by November. The government must clearly explain what’s going on. It must revise its current strategy and present effective solutions to fight the coronavirus before the situation gets out of control.
The government said it signed contracts to purchase enough vaccines to inoculate 79 million people, more than enough for its 50 million population. But global vaccine companies’ supplies are being delayed one after another. In February, the government promised to bring in Novavax vaccines for 20 million people starting in the second quarter. However, in a meeting presided over by Moon on Monday, the government pushed that goal back to bringing in the U.S. vaccines for 10 million people by the end of the third quarter, starting in June. Moon vowed to import Moderna vaccines for 20 million people in May alone, but a delay is unavoidable after Moderna decided to first supply the U.S. with its vaccines, enough for 100 million Americans. That means its deliveries to the world outside the U.S. will be delayed.
Korea’s inoculation schedule will also be affected after the U.S. government recommended a suspension of Janssen vaccines, citing the risk of blood clots, as in the case of AstraZeneca vaccines. Korea was supposed to bring in Janssen vaccines for 6 million people in the second quarter. If the inoculation suspension is prolonged, there are no substitutes available. That will cause a further delay in our health authorities’ vaccination schedule.
The Moon administration’s goal of forming herd immunity by November after vaccinating more than 70 percent of the population cannot be achieved. In that case, Korea has to envy countries like Israel and the UK, which are fast returning to normalcy thanks to their successful vaccine programs. We also may have to look at Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong with envy.
And yet Moon has tried to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by bragging about the government’s vaccine program. He said the administration conspicuously cleared all the uncertainties of vaccine supplies. We wonder if he wanted to compare Korea with underdeveloped countries, not advanced ones.
To make matters worse, daily counts of new infections have soared to over 700, signaling an imminent fourth wave of the pandemic. On Tuesday, 731 new cases were reported, the largest since January. At the current pace, the government may have to consider restricting business operating hours for restaurants and cafes. It also can consider the introduction of fast home testing kits, which are being exported to more than 100 countries by 46 companies in Korea. If people can have an additional means to check their health status, it can help them fight the virus.