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Korea vows own vaccine by next year

President Moon Jae-in presides over a strategy meeting of a new government-private committee for the nation's vaccine hub vision at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
President Moon Jae-in presides over a strategy meeting of a new government-private committee for the nation's vaccine hub vision at Cheong Wa Dae on Thursday. (Cheong Wa Dae)
The Korean government on Thursday pledged to inject 2.2 trillion won ($1.92 billion) over the next five years into development and production of COVID-19 vaccines, designating vaccines one of the nation’s three key strategic technology areas along with semiconductors and batteries.

The planned investment will be launched later this year with aims to debut the nation’s first locally developed COVID-19 vaccine by the first half of 2022 and to make the country one of the world’s top five vaccine producers by 2025.

“Ramping up vaccine supplies is the only way to resolve a deepening vaccine inequality between rich and poor countries. With the vaccine hub strategy, South Korea will play a leading role in tackling vaccine shortages,” President Moon Jae-in said before presiding over the inaugural strategy meeting of a new government-private committee for the vaccine hub vision.

"Our companies are ready to start a new challenge and the government is willing to support them.”

All 11 related government ministries are joining the committee, along with local pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and a slew of experts and stakeholders, to set out strategies in three fields -- vaccine development, production and global partnership.

Moon, in particular, expressed high expectations about the nation’s first locally developed vaccine. Currently, seven developers are carrying out clinical trials and the government plans to offer financial support for those entering phase 3 trials this year.

“Having our own vaccine is also crucial for us to secure vaccine sovereignty,” he said. “The government will make both financial and regulatory support to speed up the launch of the first Korean vaccine,” he said.

Early this year, Moon announced Korea’s vaccine hub vision to scale up production for COVID-19 vaccines not just for domestic consumption but also for global supplies, touting the nation’s production capabilities.

Home to global drugmakers like Samsung Biologics and SK Bioscience, Korea is the world’s second-largest manufacturer of biomedicines.

Related discussions gained momentum in May when Moon held his first summit talks with President Joe Biden in Washington, during which the leaders agreed to bolster cooperation under a strategic vaccine partnership.

As part of the partnership, US vaccine developers Moderna and Novavax agreed to secure stable supplies by beefing up production in Korea while sharing technological know-how with their Korean manufacturing partners.

The government plans to further extend the partnership along with other nations such as the UK, Germany, Canada and Australia. Talks are also underway for the nation to join a World Health Organization initiative on sharing vaccine technologies and nurturing global talents in the field. 

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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