Grim Prospects for Korea Despite Vaccine Breakthrough

  • By Yang Ji-ho

    November 11, 2020 11:20

    The prospects of a coronavirus vaccine becoming widely available before the second half of next year are grim for Korea despite this week's breakthrough by Pfizer and BioNTech.

    Even if the vaccine is approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within this year, Koreans will have to wait many more months till their names come up on the list.

    Kwon Joon-wook, the deputy chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, told reporters on Tuesday, "We believe that we would be ready to make working-level preparations in the second quarter of next year." He added, "It is important to take an careful and deliberate approach while checking for problems during vaccination such as side effects."

    The government is determined to buy any vaccine as quickly as possible without extra domestic clinical trials if they are approved somewhere else. But at the moment other countries are hogging the orders.

    Pfizer says it will be capable of producing 25 million doses by the end of this year. The U.S. has already ordered 50 million doses, the EU 100 million and the U.K. 40 million, so it will not be easy for other countries like Korea that are at the back of the queue. In 2021, Pfizer expects to manufacture another 650 million doses.

    The Korean government has ordered 10 million doses of vaccines through the COVAX Facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism aimed at securing vaccines for equitable distribution, and 20 million through individual pharmaceutical companies.

    But an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare told the Chosun Ilbo, "We have yet to finalize plans to purchase vaccines manufactured by specific companies like Pfizer or AstraZeneca." That pins Korea's hopes on other vaccines that are still at the development or testing stage.

    The government vowed in September to develop its own vaccine, but only Genexine has progressed to phase 1 clinical trials of a candidate drug, while other Korean pharmaceutical companies have not even reached that level.

    Meanwhile, Korea reported 146 new cases as of Wednesday morning, the fourth triple-digit increase in a row.

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