South Korea considers more vaccine buys as coronavirus cases spike

People wearing masks walk at a railway station amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji

(Reuters) – South Korea’s ruling party has called for the country to buy millions of additional coronavirus vaccine doses after a spike in infection numbers raised concerns about the government’s existing plans.

South Korea already plans to secure enough doses to vaccinate 30 million people, or about 60% of the population, but Democratic Party lawmakers said they would appropriate funds to buy doses for at least 44 million people.

“The party plans to allocate an additional 1.3 trillion won ($1.2 billion) to next year’s budget,” an official with Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Nak-yon’s office told Reuters.

South Korea is battling one of its largest waves of coronavirus infections yet, fuelled by small outbreaks in the densely populated capital city of Seoul and surrounding areas.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 438 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Sunday, bringing the country’s total to 34,201 cases and 526 deaths.

The government’s current vaccine purchase plan puts it well ahead of a World Health Organization (WHO) goal for the early purchase of supplies for 20% of most vulnerable people, and the minimum of 40% agreed by European Union nations, Britain and EU partners for their populations.

Korean authorities have said they are not in a rush to procure large numbers of vaccines quickly because the country has succeeded in keeping infection rates at controllable levels, preferring to wait and see which vaccines worked best.

Securing more vaccines of different types is also necessary because their safety has yet to be guaranteed, the KDCA said on Monday.

The KDCA has said they do not expect to start vaccinating the public until the second quarter of 2021.

The Korea National Enterprise for Clinical Trials said that as of Monday 3,500 people have pre-registered to participate in clinical trials for coronavirus experimental vaccines and treatment drugs, though a smaller number will be selected to participate.

Under the current plan, the government has secured a third of the needed doses via the COVAX facility, an international COVID-19 vaccine allocation platform co-led by the WHO, with the remaining doses purchased from private companies.