August 10, 2021 13:28
Shipments of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines that were supposed to arrive in Korea in August have been delayed yet again, the Ministry of Health and Welfare admitted Monday. Moderna already failed to meet an earlier pledge to deliver them by July.
"Moderna informed us recently that it will deliver less than half of the 8.5 million doses slated for shipment in August due to problems related to production labs," Health and Welfare Minister Kwon Deok-chul said. But he refused to say what the exact number would have been. The minister claimed he could not reveal more details because of a confidentiality agreement with Moderna, an excuse the government has routinely been using.
But due to the shortage of vaccines, the government abruptly decided to extend the interval between jabs from four to six weeks, delaying the entire vaccination process yet again. Earlier it announced that some of those who were to be given Moderna would be jabbed with Pfizer instead.
Jung Eun-kyeong, the chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said, "Because of uncertainties in vaccine supply, we will extend the interval between first and second injections of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines from four to six weeks."
In other words, 6.9 million people in their 50s and 15.3 million people aged 18 to 49 who were supposed to get their second Pfizer or Moderna shots either in late August or September will have to wait two more weeks until they are fully vaccinated.
This is the fourth time that Moderna has failed to keep its promised delivery date.
In December last year, President Moon Jae-in announced to great fanfare that he had personally negotiated the supply of 40 million doses by video link with Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. He claimed they would arrive from the second quarter of this year, but a mere 112,000 doses had arrived by late June. Last week, only another 1.3 million doses were shipped.
There has been widespread public anger here since July, when the government admitted a shortage of vaccines for people aged 55-59 and the inoculation schedule was pushed back.
Health authorities have claimed that a huge vaccine supply is scheduled in the second half of the year, but another delay is expected as Novavax has recently postponed applying for regulatory approvals in the U.S, which would have allowed Korea to produce the vaccine under license.
The government's refusal to reveal how many vaccines it has been promised by whom citing alleged confidentiality clauses has mostly eroded trust in official announcements.
The setback comes as the highly infectious Delta variant is spreading rapidly in Korea. The effectiveness of a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant is estimated at just 35.6 percent, jumping to 88 percent only after the second jab.
Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital said, "The risk of infections has increased with the extended interval between jabs." And Jung Ki-suck at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital added, "The government should present a clear scientific rationale for extending the vaccination interval."
Meanwhile, the daily tally of coronavirus infections stood at 1,540 as of Tuesday morning.
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