Most Pandemic-Weary South Koreans Still Waiting for Coronavirus Vaccine

South Korea

Most Pandemic-Weary South Koreans Still Waiting for Coronavirus Vaccine

Seoul has done a top-rate job of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but it is having trouble getting quick access to vaccines.

A slow coronavirus vaccine rollout and supply shortages are stymieing South Korea’s efforts to achieve herd immunity by this fall or winter.

To date, only about 3 percent, or 1.8 million, of the roughly fifty-one million population are at least partially vaccinated. About 1.1 million have been inoculated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine and seven hundred forty thousand with Pfizer’s vaccine.

But according to acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki, eventually reaching herd immunity “will not be a problem.”

“Korea will have access to enough vaccines to give to more than eighteen million people before July,” he told the parliament earlier this week.

“Most of our secured supplies are coming in the latter half of the year. There is no question we will reach herd immunity come November,” he added.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has asserted in the past that at least 75 percent of the general public must be inoculated against the coronavirus to achieve herd immunity—which aims to have enough people within a population become immune to a disease, often through vaccination or natural infection, to make its spread unlikely.

As a result, the entire community is protected, even those who are not themselves immune, according to Harvard Medical School.

Hong noted that South Korea recently received two hundred fifty thousand Pfizer vaccine doses, with about five million more doses slated for phased deliveries beginning next month and June. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca will supply an additional 3.5 million doses over the next sixty days.

However, Hong acknowledged that forty million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which were previously announced to arrive in the country in the second quarter, likely won’t be available for public use until August.

As for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, it is yet unknown when Korea can tap into the six million doses that it has already purchased. Currently, regulators in both the United States and Europe are reviewing a potentially lethal blood-clotting disorder that has been seen in a small number of patients.

South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare offered similar assurances that the country will have a sizeable portion of its population inoculated. Its latest estimates have thirty-six million citizens will have been “fully vaccinated” by fall, with hospitalizations and deaths dropping “significantly” by summer.

In order to further ease vaccine-supply issues, the Moon Jae-in administration is “activating all diplomatic channels,” the Health Ministry confirmed.

“Lately there seems to be too much media focus on the vaccines,” Yoon Tae-ho, a Health Ministry senior official, said in a press briefing Wednesday.

“But vaccinations are just one pillar of pandemic control. There are other mitigation measures that are just as important, such as physical distancing.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.