Biden pledges to provide vaccines for all South Korean troops

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Biden pledges to provide vaccines for all South Korean troops

South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday. [YONHAP]

South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Friday. [YONHAP]

 
U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday the United States will provide Covid-19 vaccines to cover all 550,000 South Korean troops.
 
Biden announced the pledge at a joint press conference with President Moon Jae-in at the White House following their summit, the first between the two heads of state since the U.S. president took office in January.
 
“There are 550,000 Korean soldiers, sailors, airmen who work in close contact with the American forces in Korea,” the U.S. president said. “We'll provide full vaccinations for all 550,000 of those Korean forces engaging with American forces on a regular basis, both for their sake, as well as the sake of the American forces.”
 
The United States has stationed its troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War to deter against North Korean aggression.
 
Approximately 23,500 American servicemen are currently stationed in South Korea, most of whom have now been vaccinated since the United States Forces Korea (USFK) began an inoculation program with the Moderna vaccine in January.
 
Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the one-dose Janssen vaccine on Feb. 27, commonly referred to as Johnson & Johnson or J&J, the USFK began to administer the J&J Covid-19 vaccine to its affiliated Korean community, including conscripts who comprise the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army (Katusa) and civilians who work on U.S. military bases.
 
Moon thanked Biden for the pledge, calling it “a meaningful step demonstrating the special history of the bilateral alliance.”
 
The pandemic has forced the South Korean military to introduce restrictions on the movements of active-duty troops, such as mandatory isolation for soldiers returning from vacation and long periods during which taking leave was prohibited to prevent an accidental introduction of the virus into military bases, where troops live together in close quarters.
 
During a South Korea-U.S. vaccine partnership event in the presence of Moon on Saturday, Samsung Biologics also signed a deal with Moderna to manufacture the firm’s Covid-19 vaccine at its local factory.
 
Moon expressed his hopes that the U.S.-South Korea vaccine partnership will help bring a close to the Covid-19 pandemic by increasing the international vaccine supply.
 
“In particular, it will contribute to vaccine supply in the Indo-Pacific region, and, in the process, be of great help to securing a stable supply for South Korea, too,” Moon said.
 
In addition to discussing numerous issues, such as North Korea’s nuclear program, one goal of Moon's trip to Washington was to secure a deal with the Biden administration to increase the vaccine supply for South Korea, which has experienced delays and shortages in its inoculation program.
 
Although the country has so far reported a total of 135,929 Covid-19 cases since the virus landed in January last year –– far below other major economies –– only around 3.4 percent of South Korea's population of 52 million has been fully vaccinated.
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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