Korea will not achieve herd immunity against coronavirus until November this year, health authorities here warned Tuesday.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said coronavirus vaccinations will start next month, but people between 19-49 who make up the bulk of the workforce will not get vaccinated until the third quarter, when all high-risk or priority groups have been inoculated.
The government hopes to administer the vaccines as fast as possible to achieve herd immunity or a threshold of 70 percent of the population being immune. The KDCA said it is will cover part of the cost from government coffers or health insurance reserves.
The government has now signed contracts for the purchase of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, where immunity occurs two to three weeks after the first dose. First priority will be given to people with chronic diseases, the elderly and medical professionals.
In a meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government has worked hard to purchase additional vaccines so people can be vaccinated safely and in a timely manner. He added Korea is set to sign a deal with U.S. drugmaker Novavax to obtain vaccines for another 10 million people by the second quarter of this year.
Once the Novavax vaccines, whose phase 3 clinical trials began in late December in the U.S., arrive, Korea will have enough vaccines for 66 million people, way more than the population of 52 million.
President Moon Jae-in on Monday promised all Koreans will be vaccinated for free. Previously, the government had planned to provide only priority recipients with free vaccinations. Japan and China also decided to provide their people with free vaccinations to achieve herd immunity.
One drawback of free vaccinations is that people will not be able to choose their brand. “It will be difficult to give people a choice since the government has to consider the timing of arrival and priority of recipients,” KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said earlier this week.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which will become available in February, is priced at US$3 to $4 per dose. Others are more expensive — Moderna $25, Janssen $14 to $25 and Pfizer $20.
Meanwhile, Korea reported 562 new coronavirus cases as of Wednesday morning, bringing the total tally to 70,212.
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