By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday visited a coronavirus vaccine production plant in South Korea and announced that the government could potentially secure additional new coronavirus vaccines for 20 million people from U.S. drug manufacturer Novavax Inc.
"The possibility has opened for us to secure additional vaccines for 20 million people, in addition to the already secured volume for 56 million, amid the pursuit of a deal between Novavax and SK Bioscience Co. recently," Moon said during the tour of SK's coronavirus vaccine production facility in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, 270 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Moon made the on-site inspection to encourage workers to produce high quality and safe vaccines on the first anniversary of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, according to Cheong Wa Dae. It came as the government was in full preparations to begin public inoculations for COVID-19 next month, beginning with medical workers.
In addition to the already secured volume for 56 million people, Seoul has been eyeing the purchase of additional vaccines from Novavax through a potential deal between the U.S. company and SK. The initially reported volume under negotiation with Novavax was for 10 million people.
Last year, SK inked a separate contract manufacturing agreement with Novavax, as well as AstraZeneca.
Moon said last week that the government will provide free COVID-19 vaccines to all South Koreans starting next month.
"This deal (under negotiation between SK and Novavax) bears significance, as it not only entails consignment production but also transfer of technology. It will play a big role in advancing the development of our country's (own proprietary) vaccine," Moon said.
Moon also held a teleconference with Novavax President and CEO Stanley Erck and discussed the company's vaccine production arrangement with SK Bioscience.
"Our own vaccine development is very important in terms of allowing stable inoculation and establishing autonomy (in medical treatment) in case the coronavirus can't be eradicated in a short period of time," Moon said.
In light of SK's consignment production deals with two major vaccine companies, Moon said the international community has pinned high hopes on South Korea's vaccine production capabilities,
"Our companies' vaccine production capacity is world class," Moon said.
Moon also highlighted that Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the nation's first known coronavirus case and projected that treatments could begin next month using the country's first homegrown virus treatment medicine alongside vaccine rollouts.
South Korea reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case on Jan. 20, 2020.
"Researchers, developers and vaccine production workers will become new heroes in the fight to overcome the coronavirus," Moon said.
The country went through two major waves of COVID-19 infections, with the first one centered in the southeastern city of Daegu in February, followed by outbreaks in the greater Seoul area in August.
The third wave of COVID-19 here reached its peak on Dec. 25, with the daily tally reaching 1,240, but has since been showing signs of a slowdown.
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