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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 25)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:14 May 25, 2021

Vaccine production hub
: Korea should deepen partnership with US

South Korea is expected to emerge as the world's vaccine production hub after President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden agreed to forge a vaccine partnership during their first face-to-face summit in Washington, D.C., Friday. Under the agreement, the two allies plan to combine Korea's production capacity with the U.S.'s advanced technology to supply much-needed COVID-19 vaccines to the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

Now, domestic companies are poised to roll out coronavirus vaccines here on a contract manufacturing basis for global pharmaceutical giants. On Saturday, Samsung Biologics signed an agreement with Moderna of the U.S. to produce mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine in its Korean factory. SK Bioscience, along with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S.-based Novavax to conduct joint research projects to develop vaccines effective against variant strains of the coronavirus.

The two deals were struck on the sidelines of the Moon-Biden summit. Korea already produces coronavirus vaccines under consignment contracts with AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom and a Sputnik vaccine maker of Russia. But Samsung Biologics will be the first Korean firm to produce an mRNA vaccine.

The global vaccine partnership agreement is one of the most successful outcomes of the just-ended summit. Korea has yet to develop its own vaccines, making the partnership with the U.S. companies indispensable in easing the vaccine shortage here.

It is also meaningful for domestic firms to push research and development jointly with multinational pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the National Institute of Health, affiliated with the health ministry, signed an MOU with Novavax to cooperate in mRNA vaccine research.

We hope the envisaged mass production will contribute to expanding the supply of COVID-19 vaccines not only for Korea but also the entire world. The partnership is also likely to raise hopes that the country will achieve its goal of herd immunity by the end of November.

The Moon government should put more efforts into getting more vaccines produced here supplied to Koreans. For this, it needs to speed up consultations with U.S. firms. When signing the MOU, Moderna reportedly expressed its willingness to set up its own production lines in Korea. We hope this will also come true as early as possible.

The U.S. also pledged to provide vaccines for all 550,000 Korean military personnel. That falls short of a vaccine swap deal South Korea had been pushing for with the U.S., failing to get the U.S. to provide spare vaccines first to Korea, which would return the favor later after it gained sufficient stocks. For Korea, early vaccine supply is crucial in overcoming the pandemic; however, the U.S. said it could not afford to provide "special favors" only for Korea.

The U.S. stance is understandable considering the flood of requests for vaccines from around the world, including hard-hit countries. The provision of vaccines to Korean troops should be appreciated in light of the bilateral alliance. It is also necessary for Korean drug makers to get technology transfers from global vaccine developers.

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