May 27, 2021 09:33
Health authorities started inoculating a potential 5.14 million people aged 65 to 74 against coronavirus on Thursday. They are given AstraZeneca's vaccine.
The government expects the pace to pick up after it increased vaccination centers from around 2,000 to 13,000 and a new reservation system has been set up to use up leftover vaccines.
As of Wednesday, the vaccination rate for first injections in Korea stood at just 7.7 percent and at a mere 3.8 percent for second shots. So far just 60.1 percent of the newly eligible 65-74-year-olds have booked their jabs amid lingering fears of side effects.
Health officials have pleaded with the elderly to get vaccinated soon because their next chance will not come until October at the earliest. They say deaths could decline sharply if all 13 million Koreans over 60, who are considered the most vulnerable age group, get their first shots by June and a quarter of the population acquires immunity.
Vaccine supplies are gradually increasing. According to health authorities, 9.74 million out of 18.4 million contracted doses have arrived, while another 8.64 million are expected by the end of June, including 55,000 doses of Moderna's vaccine.
The government hopes to boost the vaccination rate, so 36 million people get their first injection by the end of September and 36 million get their second shots by the end of November.
The government on Wednesday announced a set of incentives including exemption from the gathering ban and mandatory masks outdoors from July. If more than 70 percent of the population get vaccinated by late September, they no longer have to wear masks indoors either.
Health and Welfare Minister Kwon Deok-chul said, "Those who book their vaccination now could receive their second injection by this summer and benefit from a gradual return to normal life."
But some experts said the government is rushing things. Israel only lifted mask duty outdoors last month, when its vaccination rate surpassed 60 percent, while the U.S. allowed fully vaccinated people to take off their masks when its vaccination rate neared almost 50 percent in mid-May.
Chung Jae-hoon at Gacheon University's Gil Medical Center said, "We need incentives, but the proper thing to do is to give them to those who have been fully vaccinated."
Others worry about cheating. So far, there are two ways of verifying vaccination. One is to present a certificate of vaccination and the other is a QR code. The paper certificates are issued at vaccination centers or hospitals and can be printed from the government websites nip.kdca.go.kr or www.gov.kr.
Fully-vaccinated people can get QR codes for their smartphones using an app called COOV from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The government said it plans to set up a check-in system for fully-vaccinated people in restaurants and other venues. Badges and stickers are also in the pipeline.
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