South Korean President Moon Jae-in, while speaking at a joint press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen following a summit meeting between the two leaders, suggested that South Korea could send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea.
Moon, who is in Europe following his recent attendance at a G-7 summit meeting in the United Kingdom as an invited observer, said that he would actively push for cooperation to provide the vaccines to North Korea if the DPRK agrees on such a course of action. Moon referenced South Korea’s efforts to become a “global vaccine production hub,” while saying that South Korea would look to make the North a “partner for cooperation” on COVID-19 efforts, adding that it is necessary to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries in order to fully defeat the virus.
South Korea has struggled to meet its own domestic vaccination goals, but has more recently begun to ramp up its vaccination efforts. South Korea recently set a new record for daily vaccinations at 857,000, and the country is now reporting that roughly 23 percent of its population has received at least one dose of a vaccine while just under 6 percent are now fully vaccinated. The South Korean government says the country is now on track to meet its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the third quarter of this year.
Following the summit meeting between Moon and U.S. President Joe Biden, the United States agreed to send 550,000 vaccine doses to South Korea, enough to inoculate South Korea’s active duty military personnel; the United States subsequently increased that number, having since distributed one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to South Korea.
The United States recently announced that it would donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to an international vaccine sharing effort that aims to provide vaccines to lower income countries, including North Korea. North Korea was originally slated to receive 1.9 million vaccine doses through the COVAX program in February, but that number has since been reduced to 1.7 million, while a global vaccine shortage and a lack of “technical preparedness” in North Korea has resulted in an indefinite delay in the shipment of the vaccines to the DPRK.
North Korea continues to self-report data to the World Health Organization, and claims to have found zero positive cases of the virus after testing a total of 29,615 people.
Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.