South Korea counts on large shipments of vaccines arriving in coming weeks

South Korea has lined up 192 million doses of vaccines, but has had to deal with shipment delays.
South Korea has lined up 192 million doses of vaccines, but has had to deal with shipment delays.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea is banking on the arrival of nearly 14 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines by June, officials said on Monday (May 3), to boost an immunisation drive that could lose momentum due to dwindling supplies as a result of shipment delays.

Nearly 3.4 million of the population of 52 million had received their first dose by Sunday in the campaign that began in February, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency  (KDCA) said.

A shipment of 8.9 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, including 1.67 million via the global Covax sharing scheme, and five million doses of Pfizer’s product will arrive by June, the agency’s director Jeong Eun-kyeong said, without giving dates.

“The scale and speed of the shipment of vaccines are improving increasingly,” Dr Jeong told a briefing after an intra-agency meeting to combat the virus, hosted by President Moon Jae-in.

“Please take trust in the government’s plan to bring in vaccines, and I request you to join the campaign instead of worrying too much about supplies.”

Mr Moon said that the campaign was going better than initially planned, since it had met a goal of vaccinating three million people by the end of April.

“We might be able to raise our first-half target to 13 million from the current 12 million, if we effectively use supplies that arrive in each period as much as possible,” he said.

However, at the current pace of the campaign, with about 200,000 people receiving a dose each day, supplies could run out within a few days.

This is because available stocks amount to just 529,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 381,000 doses of the AstraZeneca product, an agency official said. 

Opposition lawmakers accused Mr Moon’s government of creating a “vaccine crunch” by failing to plan ahead and secure sufficient supplies.

South Korea has lined up 192 million doses of vaccines, including those from Novavax, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, but has had to contend with shipment delays amid global supply shortages.

The KDCA reported 488 new Covid-19 cases as at midnight on Sunday, bringing the country’s total infections to 123,728, with 1,834 deaths.