S. Korea pushes to vaccinate all citizens for free

Posted on : 2021-01-12 17:39 KST Modified on : 2021-01-12 17:39 KST
Government may categorize all adults aged 50-64 as priority recipients, regardless of health
An exhausted medical worker at a temporary screening center in Seoul takes a break on Jan. 11. (Yonhap News)
An exhausted medical worker at a temporary screening center in Seoul takes a break on Jan. 11. (Yonhap News)

The South Korean government is planning to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all citizens free of charge. This broader approach comes after previous plans to inoculate 36 million people categorized as “priority recipients.”

The government is also weighing whether to classify healthy adults aged 50 to 64 without chronic conditions as priority recipients. The government has secured enough doses to inoculate 56 million people, but plans to obtain more.

“[COVID-19] vaccinations can start next month,” President Moon Jae-in said in a New Year’s address delivered on Jan. 11 at the Blue House.

“We will see to it that all citizens will be inoculated free of charge, starting with those prioritized,” he continued.

He also noted that a “[COVID-19] treatment developed by a domestic company is also under review for approval.”

“The entire process, from the safety test and authorization of the treatment to its application and effectiveness, will be disclosed in a transparent manner,” he pledged, adding that the “development of homegrown vaccines will continue to be encouraged.”

But in a regular briefing the same day, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Director Jung Eun-kyeong predicted it would be “difficult to provide individuals with the option of choosing a vaccine.”

The government also announced that day that it may categorize healthy adults aged 50 to 64 as priority vaccine recipients. A provisional list of recommended priority recipients by the KDCA includes adults aged 50 to 64 along with healthcare workers; residents and workers at nursing homes and other group care facilities; senior citizens aged 65 and up; adults with chronic illnesses; workers in children’s education and childcare; COVID-19 primary response workers; police; firefighters; soldiers; and inmates and staff at correctional facilities and forensic psychiatric hospitals.

Explaining the scope of recommended priority recipient selection, Jung said, “We’re estimating somewhere in the neighborhood of 32 to 36 million people, and we’re currently establishing a concrete list and scale through local governments and related agencies and associations.”

Jung also sounded a cautious note on vaccinating younger people under 18 years of age.

“It’s still too early to talk about plans for vaccinating adolescents,” she said. The reasons for this include the low rates of severe COVID-19 symptoms and deaths among children and adolescents, and the fact that the vaccines’ safety in the age group has yet to be confirmed through clinical trials. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced its conclusion that a vaccine developed by Pfizer can safely be administered to 16- and 17-year-olds.

By Kim Ji-eun and Lee Wan, staff reporters

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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