February 22, 2021 09:37
Coronavirus vaccinations finally start at the end of this week, but only for staff of geriatric hospital and nursing homes and any patients under 65 there because AstraZeneca's vaccine is not recommended for older patients.
Some 367,000 will get their shots on Friday. Another 50,800 medical professionals will get vaccinated starting the following day with vaccines from Pfizer supplied through the WHO-led COVAX Facility.
The government's aim is to achieve herd immunity by November, but some experts say that will be difficult to achieve given delays and other problems with the vaccine rollout.
The Economist Intelligence Unit of London in a recent report claimed 60 to 70 percent of the populations of Asian-Pacific countries like Korea, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan will only achieve coronavirus immunity in mid-2022 and forecast a delay in vaccinations in most countries.
The EIU expects 13.8 billion doses of vaccines to be produced by the end of this year. The AstraZeneca vaccine will account for 3 billion, Novavax for 2.1 billion, Pfizer for 1.4 billion and Sinopharm for 1.3 billion.
But only the U.S. and EU, which secured vaccines early on, are expected to achieve herd immunity by the second half of this year, while Asian countries may have to wait until the middle or even end of 2022. In some poor countries it could take as long as the latter half of 2023.
The Korean government hopes to complete the first round of vaccinations of 70 percent of its 52 million population by September and achieve herd immunity by November. But skeptics say it would have to vaccinate 87 percent of the country's population due to the varying effectiveness of different vaccines.
For instance, the AstraZeneca vaccine is now thought to be only 62 to 70 percent effective, compared to Pfizer's 95 percent, Moderna's 94.1 percent, Novavax's 89.3 percent and Janssen's 66 percent.
Choi Jae-wook at Korea University said, "If we inoculate 10 million people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, only 6-7 million people will develop immunity. Considering delays, it will be realistically impossible to achieve herd immunity by November."
That goal is even more elusive in view of some coronavirus variants for which the vaccines may be less effective. Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital said, "We should not be too confident of achieving herd immunity by November and prepare for different scenarios."
Public trust in vaccines is another variable because people could refuse to be inoculated if jitters continue. One poll last month showed three out of every 10 Koreans saying they intend to either postpone or refuse to be inoculated. People in France and Germany are refusing the AstraZeneca vaccine due to safety concerns.
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