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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on May 3)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:03 May 03, 2021

Vaccine drought
: Authorities temporarily suspend initial Pfizer shots, with vaccines running short

The disease control authorities asked front-line agencies Friday to temporarily stop reserving initial shots of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, currently limited to those aged 75 and above.

The authorities asked them to refrain from booking initial Pfizer shots so that seniors could get their second doses without a hitch, citing a possible temporary imbalance of supply and demand.

South Korea is running short of Pfizer vaccine. It has so far brought in about 2.11 million doses, enough to inoculate about 1.06 million people. It limits its use to seniors aged 75 and older, about 3.49 million people. Of those people, about 1.34 million have so far received their initial Pfizer shots and 132,000 have had second shots. Inoculation with the Pfizer vaccine began in April.

When using the Pfizer vaccine, it is ideal to get the second shot three weeks after the first. Reportedly, about 690,000 doses remain in stock. Korea is scheduled to receive 1.75 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month, but they will arrive in weekly installments. The country is scheduled to receive 89 percent of the Pfizer vaccine it has secured for this year in the second half. It is practically impossible to speed up inoculation in the first half due to the shortage of vaccines.

The temporary suspension of initial Pfizer shots shows that fears of a vaccine drought have finally come true.

The Moon Jae-in administration failed to secure sufficient coronavirus vaccines within the proper time frame, as it was complacent due to its early achievements in containing the pandemic.

Even after July last year, when other countries signed deals with pharmaceutical companies to purchase vaccines prior to their development, the Moon administration was tepid on doing so. It first secured the Pfizer vaccine in February and began inoculations with it in April. This is why the Korean people are now experiencing a shortage.

Yet the government has neither apologized for its failure to secure sufficient vaccines nor asked people to understand. Rather, the government and the governing party sought to frame concerns about the lack of vaccines as fake news intended to foster distrust of the government's vaccination program.

This time they have done it again. The authorities tried to mislead people by highlighting the need for smooth second inoculations.

Since April last year, most experts had advised the government to purchase vaccines generously, but their advice fell on deaf ears.

Though the arrival of some vaccines was postponed, officials reiterate that there will be no interruptions in their inoculation plan and that they are sure of achieving herd immunity in November.

In a recent Cheong Wa Dae meeting, Moon strongly criticized those countries that developed vaccines or secured enough vaccines early, accusing them of hoarding. He failed to secure enough vaccines due to his misguided strategy, but blames the US and other countries whose vaccine strategies succeeded. Few people would sympathize with such an attitude in a leader.

Moon recently appointed a professor who advocated for the government's failed coronavirus policy as senior secretary for disease control and prevention affairs. The professor has made absurd arguments that Korea does not need to rush to buy vaccines and that early vaccination does not necessarily mean reaching herd immunity quickly. Yet Cheong Wa Dae asserts there is no problem with the appointment.

Those countries that secured enough vaccines early, such as Israel, the United States and Britain, are normalizing daily life. Masks are no longer required outdoors.

On the other hand, the Korean government said it plans to ease its social distancing rules, including the ban on private gatherings of five people or more, if it succeeds in maintaining a daily average of fewer than 1,000 new cases by the end of June. This means that people will have to endure discomfort at least two months longer.

The shortage of coronavirus vaccines is a result of Moon's seriously faulty judgment. His administration should admit failure and seek understanding from the people.

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