S. Korea to secure coronavirus vaccine for 60 pct of population

A street in Jongno, one of the busiest nightlife districts in Seoul, is rejuvenated on Sept. 14, 2020, after South Korea began to ease social distancing measures as new COVID-19 cases stabilised. Photo courtesy of YONHAP

SEOUL, Sept 15 (NNN-YONHAP) — South Korea aims to secure enough new coronavirus vaccines to administer to 30 million people, or roughly 60 percent of the country’s population, the health ministry said Tuesday.

Under the COVID-19 vaccine plan discussed at the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the country will seek to get vaccines for 10 million people from the COVAX Facility, set up by the World Health Organization and global vaccine alliance Gavi, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare said.

The rest will be acquired through arrangements with private companies, the ministry added.

It is estimated that two doses of vaccine are required for an individual to acquire immunity to the virus, reported Yonhap news agency.

The ministry said that based on demand and progress made by local pharmaceutical companies, the country will seek to secure vaccines for a further 20 million people that will allow everyone to receive vaccinations.

“The initial target of inoculating 60 percent of the population is to create herd immunity in the country that can reduce public fears about the coronavirus,” Lim In-taek, head of the health industry policy division at the ministry, said.

To get the vaccines from the COVAX Facility, the country submitted papers to join the international organization on Aug. 31 and will send a legally binding letter of confirmation by Friday.

The country will pay an upfront payment of 172.3 billion won (US$145.5 million) to join the facility by Oct. 9 and seek separate deals with global pharmaceutical companies.

Of the total, 40 percent of the funds will go to COVAX Facility, with the rest to be used to secure shipments from overseas pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca, Novavax, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Seoul is also eying vaccine development efforts by China’s Sinopharm.

Lim said that while the government has taken a cautious approach toward securing orders from private companies, it should have no problems getting the vaccines for 20 million people in a timely manner.

“The country plans to engage in concerted talks with any company that develops a safe and proven COVID-19 vaccine,” the official said, adding that considerable progress has been made in talks so far with foreign firms.

Vaccines that South Korea wants to secure from private companies will be determined based on safety, effectiveness, price and when they can be made available for use, Lim stressed, adding that several vaccines may be acquired going forward.

Separately, he pointed out that local biotech company SK Bioscience has already signed contract manufacturing organization deals with foreign manufacturers to make coronavirus vaccine candidate materials in the country that should help meet local needs.

On domestic vaccine development, the health ministry said that at present the government is providing extensive support to three companies carrying out critical clinical tests. Seoul has also set up a special support center to facilitate the development of vaccines by local companies.

The health ministry earlier said the country is seeking to develop a treatment material by the end of the year and a vaccine in 2021.

It said detailed plans will be set in October, after discussions with experts, on prioritizing people who need to be vaccinated first, as well as on making a decision on how to handle the overall cost of vaccinations.

On Tuesday, the country reported 106 more COVID-19 cases, raising the total caseload to 22,285. The number of deaths stands at 367, with the fatality rate reaching 1.64 percent.