The government announced Tuesday that it had decided to make an upfront payment worth 172 billion won ($146 million) as part of its plan to secure COVID-19 vaccines to administer to 30 million people, or roughly 60 percent of the total population.
The country will take a two-track approach. For 20 million doses for 10 million people, the government will look to the COVAX Facility, the global vaccine initiative in which South Korea participates along with more than 150 other countries. It aims to secure vaccines for the remaining 20 million people through supply deals with private companies.
The plan was confirmed during a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, where participants reviewed the current status of the development of vaccines at home and abroad.
If the secured vaccines are proven safe, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency will come up with distribution and administration plans as early as October, according to Im In-taek, director general of the Health Industry Policy Bureau in the Health and Welfare Affairs Ministry.
The goal of vaccinating 30 million people was based on scientists’ estimate that herd immunity to COVID-19 would be achievable only if approximately 60 percent of the population were immune.
Front-line health-care workers, soldiers, older people and those with underlying diseases would comprise the first 20 million recipients, under the plan.
To participate in the COVAX Facility, countries must make a prepayment amounting to $3.50 per dose, which includes 40 cents as a risk guarantee.
The government will pay upfront by Oct. 9 after submitting a legally binding form to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization by Sept. 18, confirming its participation.
Dues for the international body make up 40 percent of the government’s total 172 billion won vaccine budget. The other 60 percent will fund contracts with private vaccine developers.
Talks are underway between the government and global big pharma companies to secure vaccines for 20 million people. The firms negotiating potential partnerships include AstraZeneca, Novavax, Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, according to the Health Ministry.
Health authorities also are monitoring the progress of an experimental vaccine that is undergoing a phase 3 clinical trial conducted by state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm.
Information-gathering from experts on each of the vaccine candidates will precede any final decision. The authorities will consider the results of safety and efficacy reviews, when supplies are expected to be available, price and which platforms they use.
Purchasing sizable quantities of vaccines from companies does not seem to be a tough task, according to Im of the Health Ministry.
“AstraZeneca said it will provide vaccines for 10 million people to the Korean government. I’m confident that Novavax will be able to supply more vaccines than that,” Im said.
Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson also showed willingness to supply products.
Regarding AstraZeneca’s recent resumption of clinical trials for its experimental vaccine after a brief pause, Im said hasty buying could lead to errors and stressed the importance of thorough reviews to ensure safety and efficacy.
After securing vaccines for 30 million people, the government plans to carry out the second stage of its vaccine purchases by taking account of supply and demand trends and the development of domestic vaccines.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org