Young people in Korea are finding themselves in a “COVID-19 vaccine limbo” yet again, as new eligibility guidelines block them from receiving leftover shots ahead of time.
The government said Thursday that from now on, people younger than 60 years of age, who lack priority access to a vaccine, can no longer receive extra doses that eligible people did not show up for or were not fit to receive.
The surprise U-turn in policy comes just a week after the launch of an online program for booking appointments for leftover vaccines.
As Korea is vaccinating by age, most younger people are far back in the priority line, and the only way they could get a shot was to vie for spare doses in their area. Until the end of June, vaccinations are open to people in their 60s and older, workers in essential sectors and military personnel.
But on Wednesday, a day before the eligibility deadline expires for people aged 60 and above, the government ordered vaccination clinics across the country to drop people younger than 60 from the standby list for leftover doses. The extra vaccines will instead be offered to those aged 60 and older, who are more vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19, but who had failed to make an appointment by the due date.
Hong Seul-kee, 35, in Seoul’s western district of Guro, is among those who almost got their coveted spots on the standby list taken away. She said she was informed by a family physician’s office where she signed up to be waitlisted for a vaccine that she might not get the chance after all.
“They told me I was still on the list for another week, but that I was bumped down the priority order to make room for older people who haven’t scheduled theirs yet,” she said.
Hong said she felt the adjustments to be “unfair.” “I thought the whole point of being on the list was to get the shots that were turned down by people who are eligible.”
Dr. Choi Seung-jun, a primary care physician in Yongsan, central Seoul, said his office had about 150 people on the waiting list. “Most of them are young, and they are desperate for a shot. I don’t know why it should be so hard for these people to get vaccinated, he said. “Vaccines should be open to everyone.”
Choi said he did not know whether he should inform them about the new policy because “the guidelines are changing too frequently.”
“The notice I got yesterday said not to administer leftover vaccines to people under 60 from Friday, and then it seems to have been moved to next Wednesday overnight,” he said.
A Gyeonggi Province resident surnamed Lee, 33, said despite the vaccination campaign having begun three months ago, the rollout was still out of reach for many young people.
“I think people are entitled to know when they can expect to get a shot,” he said.
Lee said he was “lucky enough” to score a slot for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this week. But before the US-supplied Johnson & Johnson shots came around, Lee, who is 33 years old and healthy, said there was “no way of knowing” how much longer he would have to wait for his vaccination.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s spokesperson Son Young-rae told reporters in a closed-door briefing Thursday that the vaccine plan for people in their 50s and younger will be announced sometime in the third week of June.
Korea administered 403,780 doses on Wednesday, bringing the total number of vaccinations in the country to 8,558,941. The number of fully vaccinated people reached 2.1 million, or 4.3 percent of the population.
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org