Vaccine rollout to pick up steam following additional deals
Acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki announced Monday that Korea will accelerate its Covid-19 vaccination rollout, following the government's deal procuring an additional 40 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine on Saturday.
The press briefing was organized to calm public concerns over vaccine supplies and safety.
"We have procured a total of 192 million doses for 99 million people," said Hong in a public message on Korea's Covid-19 vaccination scheme Monday. "Through this, we have laid the foundation for reducing the time to achieve herd immunity."
On Saturday, health authorities announced that Korea signed a deal with Pfizer for an additional 40 million vaccine doses, or enough to inoculate 20 million people.
Hong added that the government is trying to introduce Moderna and Janssen vaccine supplies in the country in the first half of the year, without giving details.
This brings the total amount of vaccines Korea has procured to 192 million doses, or enough for 99 million people — which is enough to inoculate its entire population of 52 million almost twice over.
The country aims its pick up speed in its inoculation pace with the additional vaccine supplies. This comes amid concerns over slow progress in the vaccine rollout.
The daily average of inoculated people increased from 40,000 in the first week of April to 50,000 in the second, 65,000 in the third and 128,000 in the fourth.
Starting this week, the government plans to inoculate an average of 150,000 people daily. More vaccination centers will be open nationwide from May in order to accommodate the daily 1.5 million shots.
The government has mentioned its plan to reach herd immunity by November numerous times.
In his address, Hong reaffirmed the government's vaccination campaign to inoculating 3 million people by the end of April and 12 million people within the first half of the year.
The plan is to administer at least one shot to 36 million people, or 70 percent of the total population, by the end of September and then achieve herd immunity by completing the two rounds of vaccination by November.
As of Sunday midnight, 2,266,888 people, or 4.4 percent of Korea's population, had received one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine — while 104,905 people, or 0.2 percent of the population, had been vaccinated with two doses.
Health authorities, however, drew the line when it came to giving people a choice in which vaccine they receive.
Currently in Korea, people receive either AstraZeneca or Pfizer and have no say in which they get. Senior citizens older than 74 or people in senior facilities receive Pfizer, while disabled and elderly care workers and flight attendants are eligible for AstraZeneca.
"In order to promote vaccination more quickly and efficiently nationwide, it is necessary [for the government] to hold the right to determine who gets what vaccines," a health official said.
Hong also said that the government is considering ways to exempt vaccinated people from the otherwise mandatory self-quarantine period.
"We are considering easing quarantine measures [for fully vaccinated people], such as exempting them from the 14-day quarantine period after coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient or entering from abroad, by using electronic vaccination certificates."
Hong also stressed that the country will provide compensation according to the national compensation system for causal damage cases after vaccination, referring to the 45-year-old nursing assistant who was paralyzed in her four limbs after receiving AstraZeneca.
As of Sunday midnight, 500 new Covid-19 cases were reported, raising the total caseload to 119,387, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The daily average of Covid-19 cases during the last week reached 659.1, increasing for five consecutive weeks.
As a result, Korea will strictly apply social distancing measures this week, banning dining-in and private gatherings by civil servants, and advising public sector workers to work from home or commute at different times.
Korea began administering AstraZeneca vaccines Monday to 173,000 essential workers such as police officers, firefighters and coast guards. People under 30 are still excluded due to concerns over rare cases of blood clots.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]