May 03, 2021 11:19
Korea is running short of even the few coronavirus vaccines it has managed to secure, which is threatening the country's entire vaccination schedule.
A total of 11.5 million people are scheduled to get their shots in the second quarter, 5.45 million of them this month, but the government has only 345,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine left. Those targeted for inoculation this month included preschool teachers and people between 65 and 74, but the elderly will probably miss out for now.
The government has promised to vaccinate senior citizens first to lower the COVID-19 fatality rate, but inoculations are proceeding at a snail's pace due to the shortage.
By last Friday, just over 3 million people had been given their first shot. But now a number of regions have temporarily halted the first Pfizer jabs of 3.3 million people over 75 because there are not enough supplies.
The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses three weeks apart, but the government increased the number of first injections to meet its goal of inoculating 3 million people by the end of April without considering how much was left. As a result, no more first shots with the Pfizer vaccine can be allocated in the first two weeks of May.
Inoculation of 4.94 million people aged 65 to 74, who are also vulnerable, will not begin in earnest until June. Most of the AstraZeneca vaccines used here are made locally under license, and supplies for another 7 million people contracted separately with the drug maker will not arrive until mid-May.
The government has extended the interval between the first and second injections to 12 weeks and diverted supplies slated for second jabs to first shots for more people.
As of Sunday, 1.83 million people had received their first AstraZeneca shot out of 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine Korea has secured, which mathematically means there are only 170,000 doses left.
But the government said this rises to 345,000 doses when using "low dead space" or zero-waste syringes, so about 230,000 people on the waiting list will still be able to get their shots in the first two weeks of May.
The daily tally of new coronavirus infections stood at 488 as of Monday morning, below 500 for the first time in about a week.
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