South Korea is on track to vaccinate three-quarters of its 52 million people against Covid-19 over the next three months as vaccine deployments by governments in East Asia gain momentum magnitude after early delays.
Health officials in Seoul on Thursday unveiled plans to expand its vaccination program to the general public after having vaccinated 13 million people, a quarter of the population, two weeks ahead of schedule.
The increase in vaccinations comes after Asian countries, which outperformed Europe and the United States in their first responses to the coronavirus pandemic, late their Western counterparts this year to get and deliver jabs.
The difficulties in East Asia have been attributed to the lack of local Covid vaccine manufacturers as well as the inertia of policymakers after their early success virus removal.
Strong rebound in export growth and signs of inflationary pressures obscured weaker interior recoveries across the region amid continued social distancing and restrictions on travel, tourism and mass events.
Societe Generale analysts called the lack of acceleration in China’s domestic consumption in particular a “big concern,” with the country’s retail and service sectors still underperforming and the export recovery set to moderate.
Seoul is in talks with other governments to quickly ease travel restrictions as the vaccination campaign accelerates.
“The slump in the service sector – travel, retail, foodservice and hotels – makes it difficult to create a positive cycle for the economy, despite strong exports,” said Park Chong-hoon, head of research at Standard Chartered in Seoul.
South Korea will also allow citizens to get vaccinated with different vaccines as part of a plan to overcome supply shortages and meet its herd immunity target by November. This means that approximately 760,000 people, including healthcare workers who initially received the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccines, can receive their second dose with a BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine.
“Things seem to be going as well as the government expected, with little public resistance to vaccinations,” said Kim Tak, professor of infectious diseases at Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital.
South Korea’s vaccination rate has surpassed that of neighboring Japan despite Tokyo’s rush to vaccinate citizens ahead of the July Olympics. While the two countries had barely started their campaigns in April, cumulative doses per 100 people in South Korea have risen to more than 30 in recent days, compared to just over 20 in Japan.
China, which also suffered initial delays, administered more than 900 million doses to its population of 1.4 billion.
Jeong Eun-kyeoung, head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said 80 million doses will arrive in South Korea in the third quarter of the year, including 10 million doses in July.
“There is hope to return to ordinary life. . . But we cannot stop the community spread of the virus with the current vaccination rate, ”Jeong said.
To encourage vaccination, South Korea is introducing incentives such as allowing vaccinated people to go outside without a mask and be exempt from restrictions on gatherings of more than four people. Inoculation sites are also extended to companies with their own medical facilities.
Local trust has been bolstered by a series of trade deals between South Korean biopharmaceutical groups and major foreign vaccine developers.
SK Bioscience is contracted to produce AstraZeneca jabs for home use and for export. She also signed a licensing agreement with Novavax produce 40 million doses for South Korea as well as a manufacturing contract for global supply.
Samsung Biologics, the country’s largest pharmaceutical subcontractor, plans to start production of the Moderna vaccine in the second half of the year for South Korea and the global market outside the United States. Another biotech, GL Rapha, will produce doses of Russia’s Sputnik V jab for global use.
Additional reporting by Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing
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