(2nd LD) S. Korea to cut dosage interval for COVID-19 booster shots for senior citizens
(ATTN: ADDS more details on vaccination plan, comments in paras 3-8, 16-17)
By Joo Kyung-don and Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea decided to cut the dosage interval between primary vaccination and COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for senior citizens and others in high-risk facilities in a move to curb breakthrough infections and serious cases, health authorities said Wednesday.
Booster shots for people aged 60 or older can be administered four months after they received their last dose, while those in their 50s can get extra jabs five months after their primary COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The interval for medical staff and workers at high-risk facilities, such as nursing homes, will also be cut to four months, while soldiers, police officers and firefighters can receive booster shots five months after being fully vaccinated.
The measure takes effect immediately, it added.
A booster shot refers to an extra dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the original jabs wanes over time.
Currently, vaccine booster shots are given six months after people received their last dose.
"To be prepared for a potential, greater surge in infections in winter, we are pushing to wrap up the inoculation of additional shots for those aged 60 and older and other high-risk people by December by shortening the interval," KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a regular briefing.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said at a COVID-19 response meeting earlier in the day that about 13.78 million people will receive additional shots by the end of this year with the latest decision, which is more than double from the government's original plan.
"The number of serious COVID-19 cases is going over 500, so we urgently need to protect senior citizens from COVID-19," he added.
People aged 60 or older account for 82 percent of serious COVID-19 cases and 97 percent of COVID-19 deaths recently, according to Kim.
Authorities earlier said breakthrough cases accounted for 56 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the first week of November following the country's initiation of the "living with COVID-19" scheme with eased social distancing rules for people's gradual return to pre-pandemic life.
The decision on booster shots also came as the country reported its second largest daily COVID-19 caseload of 3,187, with the number of critically-ill patients reaching a new high of 522.
The prime minister said the hospital bed situation for virus patients in serious condition is getting tough in the greater Seoul area, where 80 percent of the country's daily virus infections are being reported, although nationwide bed capacity still has room to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
The government earlier issued an administrative order to secure hospital beds to cope with the rising number of serious COVID-19 cases.
"We noticed that the number of intensive care unit beds currently in use is too big, compared with the actual number of critically-ill virus patients," Kim said. "There may be various reasons, but we ask beds to be allocated according to patients' condition based on their medical diagnosis."
Meanwhile, the government also announced its decision to end the inoculation program with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine at the end of this year, given the country's vaccine supply situation and the decrease in the number of people subject to receive it.
The agency also recommended Pfizer's vaccine for those under 30, instead of Moderna's, in a preemptive safety measure, as some European countries restricted Moderna's shots due to higher risks of heart inflammation.
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