S. Korea to ramp up Covid vaccination drive amid spike in cases

South Korea will increase the Covid-19 vaccination rollout as the country has secured sufficient doses amid supply shortage concerns to achieve herd immunity by November, the country’s acting Prime Minister said on Monday.

In a public message, Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki sought to allay public concerns about a shortage of vaccines and slow progress in the inoculation rollout as the country is bracing for another wave of infections, Yonhap reported.

Over the weekend, South Korea clinched a deal with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to import additional vaccines for 20 million people.

With the latest deal, the country has secured 192 million doses in total, enough to inoculate 99 million people, an amount almost double the nation’s 52 million population.

“With the latest deal with Pfizer, the country has laid the ground for advancing the timetable of herd immunity. We’ve also prepared for expanding vaccinations to those under age 18 and booster shots in response to virus variants,” Hong said.

Since South Korea began its vaccination campaign on February 26, a total of 2.26 million people, or 4.4 per cent of the 52 million population, have got at least their first shots.

The country aims to vaccinate 3 million people by this month and 12 million by end-June, with a goal of attaining herd immunity by November.

“The country plans to pump up efforts to vaccinate 1.5 million people per day by May,” Hong said.

Public anxiety about Covid-19 vaccines increased in recent weeks over safety concerns, and the country has witnessed spiking virus cases amid the fast spread of highly contagious variants and a global shortage of vaccines.

South Korea has secured Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX global vaccine project and separate deals with five pharmaceutical firms — AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen and Novavax.

In the first half, the country is expected to receive 18.09 million doses from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, according to health authorities. The country said it has no plans to share vaccines with other countries, including North Korea.

Mindful of security concerns, the country has been administering AstraZenaca and Pfizer shots to people in specific groups, including patients and workers at long-term care hospitals and those age 75 and older.

Health authorities said they may be able to relax overall antivirus curbs if the country completes the vaccination of those deemed to be highly vulnerable to infections by end-June.

The number of daily virus cases shot up to near 800 last week on sporadic cluster infections after staying in the 300-400s in March. The country reported 500 more cases Monday, raising the total to 119,387, due to fewer weekend tests.