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Moon’s vision for vaccine hub gains big boost

President Moon and US President Biden (Yonhap)
President Moon and US President Biden (Yonhap)
WASHINGTON/SEOUL -- President Moon Jae-in’s vision for a global vaccine production hub has gained a big boost from his summit talks with President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday.

The two leaders unveiled a new vaccine partnership to expand manufacturing and scale up global vaccine supply, pledging unified efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US is home to high-tech vaccine developers like Pfizer and Moderna, while Korea is the world’s second-largest manufacturer of biomedicines.

Moon touted the new partnership, saying “The two countries’ alliance has been extended to the field of health in a meaningful measure.”

“In particular, it will contribute to vaccine supply in the Indo-Pacific region, and in the process, be of great help to securing a stable supply for South Korea, too.”

Biden also expressed high hopes for the new partnership, indicating that the production capacity could reach some billion doses between the second half of this year and 2022.

“We will strengthen our ability to fight the pandemic and respond to future biological threats,” he added.

On the sidelines of Moon’s five-day visit to the US capital, two new manufacturing deals were also announced on Saturday.

Samsung Biologics signed a deal with Moderna to produce the US vaccine at its Korean production facilities. Under the deal, the US drugmaker also agreed to make more investments and create jobs in Korea.

SK Bioscience and Novavax also extended their license-in deal for another year, which includes technology transfer that allows more flexibility and efficiency in managing production targets.

With the latest deals, a total of four COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna and Novavax of the US, UK’s AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V, will be produced in Korea, with the Novavax and Sputnik V shots still waiting for regulatory approval.

Even though the exact output target and timeline were not disclosed immediately, most of the earlier productions are expected to be used for local consumption first, helping to relieve lingering concerns over a supply shortage here.

Korea has secured enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 99 million people, almost double the population. But due to delayed shipments, only 3 percent of its 52 million people have been vaccinated thus far.

Despite earlier speculation that Korea could suggest a swap deal to secure more vaccines in the US, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said it was just one of the ideas discussed before the summit.

“A swap deal is not just a bilateral issue between the US and Korea. The US needs to consider more vulnerable countries still reeling from COVID-19,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

In the meantime, Biden made a surprise announcement at the joint conference that the US is supplying vaccines to 550,000 Korean servicemen who work in close contact with American forces.

The official added that the vaccine donation will be made without any preconditions, which reaffirms the 70-year-old strong alliance between the two countries.

By Joint Press Corps and Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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