(2nd LD) Moon says COVID-19 vaccinations won't be 'too late'
(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details in paras 4-10)
SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday efforts are well under way to ensure that coronavirus vaccinations for the South Korean people won't be too late, as the government is battling accusations that it failed to procure sufficient doses in time.
"There are a lot of worries about the vaccine these days, but it may be inevitable for vaccine producing countries to get vaccines first because they extended much support to the vaccine development," Moon said during a meeting with the leaders of the five major constitutional organizations at Cheong Wa Dae.
"I believe public inoculation in our country will begin not too late, and preparations are well under way."
Later in the day, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Moon has ordered the procurement of a sufficient amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses since as early as April.
In a text message sent to reporters, the presidential office disclosed details of Moon's past instructions about the vaccines, made on more than a dozen occasions between April and early December.
The disclosure came amid growing public concern about delays in COVID-19 vaccination as the government is striving to launch inoculation during the first quarter of next year.
Opposition lawmakers and some conservative media outlets have blasted the government for the delay, with news outlets running reports speculating that Moon belatedly reprimanded his aides over the situation.
Rebutting the news reports as untrue, Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok called for "politicization of vaccines to be stopped," saying it would only amplify public mistrust and distort the truth.
"They are amplifying people's mistrust by distorting and exaggerating the facts as if President Moon had his hands off of securing vaccines and we would like to reveal what is true," he said.
Kang said that Moon told a staff meeting last month to "secure an amount enough to be considered excessive."
Tuesday's meeting between Moon and top officials was arranged to discuss measures to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and other pending national issues.
The five leaders who attended the meeting with Moon at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae were National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su, Constitutional Court President Yoo Nam-seok, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and National Election Commission (NEC) Chairperson Noh Jeong-hee, the office said.
It is the first time in seven months that Moon met with the five highest national leaders under the Constitution. It also marked the first such meeting after Noh became the NEC chief on Nov. 2.
Moon also asked for support from the five national leaders in resolving conflicts over ways to revamp powerful organizations, apparently referring to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl's injunction request against the justice ministry's recent decision to suspend him for two months over alleged misconduct.
The president also touched on inter-Korean relations, saying dialogue between North Korea and the United States and between the two Koreas have been in a stagnant state, but efforts have been made to prevent a further deterioration in the situation.
"Unless an unexpected situation occurs, it is expected that U.S.-North Korea dialogue and inter-Korean dialogue may regain momentum with the launch of the new U.S. administration. I will work hard to make that happen," Moon said.
In response, Park said social integration has also emerged as an important task after the National Assembly has passed reform bills involving the prosecution, the National Intelligence Service and police.
Kim called for paying greater attention to vulnerable social groups, including disabled people, women and children, while Yoo stressed the importance of alleviating polarization and expanding social safety nets.
Prior to the meeting, Moon awarded the Blue Stripes Order of Service Merit to Noh's predecessor, Kwon Soon-il, who served at the NEC from 2017 to October this year.
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