S. Korea looks to secure 20 million doses of Novavax vaccine, upping supply contracts to 76 million

Posted on : 2021-01-21 17:38 KST Modified on : 2021-01-21 17:38 KST
50,000 doses expected to arrive via COVAX in February
South Korean President Moon Jae-in observes vaccine production at an SK Bioscience factory on Jan. 20. (Yonhap News)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in observes vaccine production at an SK Bioscience factory on Jan. 20. (Yonhap News)

The South Korean government announced on Jan. 20 it is seeking to purchase enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines from US pharmaceutical firm Novavax to inoculate 20 million people. That brings Korea’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage up from 56 million to 76 million people.

Early next month, Korea is expected to receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, enough doses to cover 50,000 people, via the COVAX Facility, an international body arranging joint purchases of vaccines.

“We’ve sought to acquire additional vaccines as a precaution against uncertainties in the vaccine supply. We’re in talks with Novavax about purchasing its vaccine,” the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Jan. 20.

One condition for Novavax supplying vaccines to Korea is the signing of a technology transfer contract with SK Bioscience, a Korean pharmaceutical firm. If the two companies make the contract, paving the way for the Novavax vaccine being produced at SK factories in Korea, the government will sign a contract with SK to supply the vaccine to people in Korea.

“This contract is particularly meaningful since it includes not only manufacturing but also technology transfer,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a visit to an SK Bioscience factory in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, on the morning of Jan. 20. But it hasn’t been decided when the vaccines will be introduced.

The biggest advantage of the Novavax vaccine is that it can be stored for one to three years, much longer than other vaccines, which must be used within six months. As a result, vaccines produced this year could still be administered next year.

The Novavax vaccine needs to be refrigerated at 2-8 degrees Celsius. That makes it much easier to transport and store than vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer, which have to be kept at -20 and -70 degrees, respectively.

If it turns out that the antibodies produced by vaccines already in the pipeline only last for a few months, the Novavax vaccine could provide the extra vaccination that may be needed, analysts say.

The Korean government said it was in talks to receive the first shipment of 100,000 doses (two per person) from COVAX early in February. COVAX has agreed to supply enough vaccines to inoculate a total of 10 million people in the country.

“In response to an inquiry, we agreed to receive vaccines in early February, and we’re currently gearing up for that now,” South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Jan. 20.

“It’s not a large supply of vaccines — just enough for 50,000 people. And even that figure isn’t finalized but is still being discussed.”

By Choi Ha-yan and Suh Hye-mi, staff reporters

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

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