Koreans Deserve to Know Why Vaccines Are Delayed

      December 18, 2020 13:36

      The 27 member nations of the EU have announced plans to begin coronavirus vaccinations following the U.K., U.S. and Canada. Japan is also set to begin vaccinations once it secures 85 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. In Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore have already secured substantial doses of vaccines made by the two pharmaceutical giants, while China and Russia are inoculating their citizens with homegrown vaccines. Once herd immunity starts to form in those regions, there is a strong chance that Korea will become an island of coronavirus infections.

      Countries that have secured the vaccines signed pre-purchase agreements with Pfizer and Moderna in July and August, when phase 3 clinical trials began. The Korean government received the exact same information from the drugmakers but dragged its heels, claiming that its successful quarantine measures made it unnecessary to rush into pre-purchase orders for vaccines whose safety had not been proven. The government knew full well that vaccines are essential to overcome the pandemic no matter how effective quarantine measures may have been in the short term. And even if their safety levels were not 100 percent, the government could have minimized the potential risks by signing agreements with a range of pharmaceutical firms to make sure that the safest one would eventually be to hand, which is what advanced countries have done. The government made a serious miscalculation by ignoring the possibility of a major surge in infections, as if it had never heard of winter. Now the public may have to pay a hefty price for the government's mistake.

      President Moon Jae-in said at a meeting with economic advisers on Thursday, "We must completely sever the chain of coronavirus infections." Then he completely lost his bottle and added, "The biggest achievement has been elevating the value of Korea, and the 'Korea discount' has turned into a 'Korea premium.'" The "Korea discount" refers to the chronic undervaluation of Korean stocks because of the North Korean risk. But public jitters are mounting as daily infections surpassed a thousand in recent days. This is no time for the president to congratulate himself. Moon then told officials to "pursue the supply of vaccines with a sense of urgency," as if this novel idea had just occurred to him. In reality it remains uncertain if Koreans will even be able to get their first vaccinations in the first half of next year.

      What the public wants to know now is when the vaccines will be available for them. At present, nobody in the government cannot answer that. Authorities are citing confidentiality in their dealings with drugmakers to duck the responsibility of revealing details of pre-purchase negotiations. But if things were progressing smoothly, surely they would be the first to blow their own trumpets. The government needs to come clean and tell the public why it dragged its heels, who is responsible for the delay and whether it is possible to get any other vaccines sooner. The president has nothing to be proud of.

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