February 16, 2021 11:17
Elderly people have been excluded from the top priority group for AstraZeneca vaccinations.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday it is postponing AstraZeneca vaccinations for elderly inmates of nursing homes until the second half of this year because of doubts over their efficacy for that age group.
The decision follows several European countries' to the same effect citing lack of clinical data. That means only 272,000 priority patients under 65 and medical professionals in nursing homes will get their jabs from Feb. 26, setting back Korea's vaccination schedule even further.
"We decided to postpone the inoculation for the over-65s due to worries over the vaccine's efficacy for the elderly, which could damage acceptance and reduce the inoculation rate in the population at large," said KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong.
But she added, "We believe that the postponement will have no significant effect on our original goal to achieve herd immunity by November." But that means the government must make some drastic changes to its vaccination plan.
It is still unknown when Pfizer's vaccines for some 58,500 people will become available here. It was supposed to arrive in Korea by late February or early March through the WHO-led COVAX Facility, but the supply process is being delayed.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Tuesday the government secured additional deals with Novavax and Pfizer. Under the deals, Novavax will provide vaccines for 20 million people and Pfizer for 3 million people by the second quarter of this year.
According to a government announcement on Monday, a total of 759,000 people -- 272,000 people at nursing facilities, 354,000 high-risk medical professionals, 78,000 first-responders, and 55,000 medical professionals -- will now be inoculated by late March, or a mere 1.46 percent of the population. That is 541,000 fewer than the original target of 1.3 million the government announced at the end of last month.
Clinical trials of the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine for elderly people are underway in the U.S., but the result is not expected until March. If it is encouraging, the government here could rethink its plans again.
As of Tuesday morning, the daily tally of new coronavirus infections surged to over 400 again with 457 after lockdown rules were eased.
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