(LEAD) FM: Seoul, Washington 'earnestly discussing' COVID-19 vaccine swap deal
(ATTN: UPDATES with more info from 5th para)
SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is "earnestly discussing" forging a swap deal with the United States to secure COVID-19 vaccines, the South Korean foreign minister said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong revealed the bilateral consultation under way between Seoul and Washington, during a parliamentary session.
"Currently, (South Korea) is discussing (the potential swap deal) with the U.S. side quite earnestly," the foreign minister said, responding to a query by Rep. Park Jin of the main opposition People Power Party.
Chung said the issue was "intensively" consulted when U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited Seoul last week.
"Vaccine cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. is taking place in a multilayered manner through various levels," he added.
The foreign minister also noted that such bilateral collaboration concerning vaccine procurement should be considered a priority in the two countries' alliance relationship regardless of whether Seoul would or would not join the Quad, the U.S.-led four-way regional dialogue.
"The tension between the U.S. and China or (Seoul's) participation in the Quad, I believe, has nothing to do with (vaccine cooperation) directly," Chung said, responding to Park's related question.
The foreign minister also added that the country is internally reviewing an option to dispatch a special envoy to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
The government is currently in the hot seat for what critics said was a slow rollout of the national vaccination campaign.
Earlier, the Seoul government said it has secured enough vaccines to innoculate 79 million people, more than its 52 million population.
A series of mishaps in securing COVID-19 vaccines as scheduled, however, spawned concerns that the nationwide inoculation scheme may be delayed, which in turn may put its goal to create herd immunity by November in jeopardy.
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