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Korea may allow AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for older people

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (Yonhap)
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (Yonhap)

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently being used only for at-risk groups under the age of 65 in Korea, might be put to wider use sooner than expected, thanks to “reassuring data” from countries that were first to be vaccinated.

A senior official at the KDCA said Tuesday the agency was “examining the possibility of giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to the older population based on emerging data and another round of review by the advisory board.”

Last month, the agency had said only people under 65 years of age in residential care settings would be given the AstraZeneca vaccine until more data became available. More specifically, the agency has said it would make the final decision on whether to include people 65 or older depending on the results from a US trial.

Experts say field data from elsewhere in the world is “more than sufficient” to reverse the official recommendation.

A study published last week said the rollout of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines in Scotland has led to “a substantial fall” in severe cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. The study said four weeks after the first doses of AtraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines decreased the risk of hospital admission by up to 94 percent and percent and 85 percent, respectively.

Virologist Dr. Paik Soon-young at Catholic University of Korea said not vaccinating the older group was “a huge setback for the country’s immunization efforts.”

“By deciding not to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to the over-65 age group, we are leaving out some hundreds of thousands at nursing homes and other long-term care institutions who need the most protection,” he said.

Preventive medicine professor Dr. Jung Jae-hun of Gachon University agreed inoculating those aged 65 or above was “not only a strategically better move, but completely warranted.”

“There is more than enough evidence not to postpone AstraZeneca vaccinations for older people,” he said.

Korea’s initial supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 1.5 million doses, and it is being administered to nursing home residents and workers younger than 65 for the time being. The government estimates there are about 272,000 people that fit this target group.

By Kim Arin (