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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 1)

All News 07:09 April 01, 2021

Looming vaccine 'drought'
: Reaching herd immunity by November is not an option

South Korea is hitting a snag in securing enough COVID-19 vaccine at a time when competition for vaccinations is heating up around the world. The health authorities have raised concerns that this looming vaccine "drought" may hamper the country's inoculation plan that envisions administering vaccines to 12 million people in the first half of the year and having more than 70 percent of the population vaccinated by November to achieve herd immunity.

Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong told reporters Monday that the March 31 delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines via the COVAX Facility, the World Health-Organization-led global vaccine distribution project, has been pushed back to the third week of April owing to India's decision to halt exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses it produces. Furthermore, the amount of the delivery has been cut to 432,000 doses for 216,000 people from the original 690,000 doses. More worrisome is that this altered delivery schedule and amount may also not be honored.

Vaccine rollouts by other pharmaceutical companies are also in doubt. The country is expected to receive Pfizer shots for 500,000 people in April and for 875,000 people in May, but the government has yet to clarify the schedule of shipments from Janssen, Moderna and Novavax amid what is growing to be a vaccine shortage.

Against this backdrop, the government is considering extending the interval between two AstraZeneca vaccine shots to 12 weeks from the current 10 to buy time until more become available. Specialized syringes are also used to make the most out of each vaccine vial. Given the gravity of our pressing situation, these measures are thinkable, but they cannot offer fundamental solutions.

Regrettably, the government deserves criticism for failing to be more proactive in securing vaccines last year. Even now it is necessary for the nation to do whatever it can to have more vaccines. These will surely require our diplomatic efforts. If necessary, the government should not hesitate to seek cooperation from the private sector. That's because reaching herd immunity by November is not an option.

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