Buy vaccines for next year
The author is a professor of preventative medicine at Cha Medical School and the head of the Korea Public Health Association.
Covid-19 is spreading in a more challenging way than any other epidemic in history in terms of the scale, period and damage. The number of positive cases in Korea has been more than 1,000 a day for five consecutive weeks since July 7. The infection is now spreading nationwide beyond the capital region, with the non-capital region’s positive cases 40 percent of the total new cases. The Delta variant, which is 2.7 times more infectious than the initial virus, is becoming dominant in Korea.
To fight the new infectious diseases, vaccines and treatments are the most important weapons. But there hasn’t been a successful development of effective drug worldwide. Fortunately, vaccines have been successfully developed and produced, giving hope for victory in the war against Covid-19. As the global supply of vaccines is limited, however, most countries are struggling to inoculate their citizens.
According to global statistics site “Our World in Data,” the percentage of people completely vaccinated is 71 percent in the UAE, 65 percent in Uruguay and Chile, 62 percent in Israel, 59 percent in Spain and 57 percent in the UK. Germany has 53 percent of the people fully vaccinated, the U.S. and France 49 percent and Japan 31 percent. Korea’s rate of the full vaccinated is only 14.4 percent. (39.6 percent have received the first jab.) It is not easy to attain the goal of 70 percent within four months as the government wants.
The government promised to import 10 million doses by July, but 9.08 million doses arrived. It also promised to supply 27 million doses in August and 42 million doses in September. However, to complete 36 million people’s first dose by September, 16 million more people need to be vaccinated. If supply goes as planned, the goal can be accomplished. But the supply schedule for 40 million doses of Novavax and 5.9 million doses of Janssen is uncertain. The Food and Drug Administration’s approval for Novavax also has been delayed.
The Janssen vaccine is likely to be offered to those over the age of 50 due to rare blood clog side effect, but vaccinations for the age group has already been complete or is planned. So even with 5.9 million doses of Janssen vaccine, it’s not easy to find people to take that vaccine. To vaccinate the additional 16 million under such circumstances, the government must do its best to source supply and provide transparent and swift information through reinforced communication with the people.
Considering that variants continue to appear and antibodies are maintained for only six months with vaccines, the government must purchase vaccines for next year. Israel, Britain and Japan are offering booster shots to those who are fully vaccinated.
As Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic like the flu, it is the duty of the government to secure vaccine supplies in advance for public safety. The government must not repeat its failed vaccine procurement of last year.
Unnecessary administrative work on the medical institutions offering vaccines also should be minimized. Recently, there was a case of lowering morale at the front-line medical institutions after the disease control authority instructed them to collect vaccines from the public health centers across the country. If such administrative measures are repeated, safe vaccination by medical institutes may be hindered.
The government must not repeat the frequent breakdowns of the vaccination reservation system through efficient maintenance and reinforcement of the data system. I hope all aspects are comprehensively revamped and 70 percent of the people complete their vaccinations by the end of November so that people can return to normal life in a safe environment.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.