South Korea on Thursday signed a deal with US biotech company Moderna to buy new coronavirus vaccine doses for 20 million people, with the supply to begin in the second quarter of next year, health authorities said.
Following the deal, the total amount of COVID-19 vaccines South Korea has secured is enough to inoculate 56 million people, more than enough to cover the country's population of 52 million, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The official contract was closed three days after President Moon Jae-in and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel reached an agreement via videoconference on Monday.
The amount is double the quantity the government had initially sought to secure from the American biotech firm through negotiations, and the provision date has also been moved up from the earlier expected third quarter.
South Korea has signed deals to buy vaccines for 10 million people from AstraZeneca, 6 million from Johnson & Johnson's Janssen and 10 million from Pfizer.
The country has also signed an agreement to secure vaccines for 10 million people from the World Health Organization's global vaccine project, known as COVAX.
"We are planning to receive the vaccines by COVAX in the first half of the year, between February and April if possible.
Negotiations on the amount and provision date are still under way," KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said.
Under the current plan, the vaccine arrivals will begin in the first quarter, starting with AstraZeneca's, followed by Janssen and Moderna's in the second quarter and Pfizer's in the third.
"The government is making utmost efforts to prepare for safe inoculations and will announce our plans for the vaccination next month," Jeong said.
The latest contract took place amid growing calls to speed up the vaccine program to cope with a sharp hike in new virus cases.
South Korea added 967 more COVID-19 cases Thursday, including 940 locally transmitted infections, bringing the total caseload to 60,740.
The latest daily caseload is slightly down from 1,050 cases Wednesday and 1,045 Tuesday, but concerns linger as cluster infections continue from various places, including churches and correctional facilities.
The government said it will hold a meeting on Saturday to discuss whether to raise the social distancing scheme to the highest level or maintain the current second-highest measures amid no signs of a letup in the coronavirus resurgence. (Yonhap)