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[News Focus] COVID-19 vaccines: What’s coming and when?

Stock image of vaccination (123rf)
Stock image of vaccination (123rf)
South Korea’s COVID-19 vaccine plans are slowly taking shape.

Once shrouded in secrecy, the government is no longer holding back in sharing the outcomes of negotiations with individual vaccine firms in securing the doses necessary for the country.

As of Wednesday, Korea has signed deals with AstraZeneca, Janssen and Pfizer-BioNTech, and is in close talks with Moderna, on top of the vaccines it is to receive through the global nonprofit COVAX facility.

According to what is known through governmental announcements, Korea is expected to receive 40 million doses from Moderna, 20 million doses from Pfizer, 6 million doses from Janssen, 20 million doses from AstraZeneca, and another 20 million doses from COVAX.

Moderna‘s and Pfizer’s vaccines are messenger ribonucleic acid vaccines and Janssen’s and AstraZeneca’s are viral vector vaccines. The vaccines from COVAX will comprise of those from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sanofi.

The vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have to be injected in two doses, meaning the 40 million doses from Moderna will be used for 20 million people, and so on. According to the government, Korea has now secured enough vaccines for 56 million people across the deals and COVAX supply, exceeding its population of some 51.6 million people.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is anticipated to be the first to start injections locally in February. The viral vector vaccine, researched in conjunction with Oxford University, is being contract manufactured by local vaccine maker SK Bioscience.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has reported a 70 percent efficacy -- the composite of two test groups that have respectively returned 90 percent and 62 percent efficacy given different doses. During its research, the AstraZeneca vaccine was temporarily halted after a patient developed neurological disorder symptoms. The trial resumed after researchers confirmed it was unrelated to the vaccine.

Arriving next will be the COVAX facility vaccines. The COVAX vaccines will be available in the first quarter of 2020, with priority given to medical professionals and the elderly in nursing homes, according to the Ministry of Disease Control.

Janssen’s and Moderna’s vaccines are to be doled out sometime in the second quarter of 2021. Pfizer’s will come no later than July.

While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are arriving later than other vaccines, they are by far the most “authorized” vaccines, coming armed with the emergency use approval of the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA stresses that its emergency use approval is not equal to a full approval and that there is no vaccine that has undergone the full approval process, which usually takes six months after a successful clinical phase 3 trial completion.

And even as emergency-use vaccines, the mRNA vaccines come with potential side effects -- just as any vaccine would. According to the UK‘s National Health Service, apart from rare hypersensitivity reactions, these side effects are common sign of the immune system responding to the vaccine

The FDA states that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have shown minor side effects such as pain at the injection site, tiredness, headaches, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, injection site swelling, injection site redness, nausea, feeling unwell and swollen lymph nodes.

There is a chance that the injection may cause severe allergic reactions for some, which usually occur a few minutes to an hour after the shot is given. Vaccinated people may be asked to stay a while after the shot, for the sake of monitoring.

Severe allergic reactions include difficulty in breathing, swelling of the face and throat, a fast heartbeat, a bad rash all over the body and dizziness or weakness, according to the FDA.

Only a small ratio of people have shown side effects to the vaccines, however. For example, according to a report by Canada’s CTV, in Vancouver, where 11,930 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed so far, only two people experienced an allergic reaction.

Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have reported side effects mostly after the second injection. Pfizer’s two vaccine doses are administered three weeks apart, with Moderna’s a month apart.

In clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was tested on 20,000 individuals 16 years of age and older, and the Moderna vaccine was tested on 15,400 individuals 18 years of age and older.

Neither knows how long the vaccine’s protection lasts against COVID-19.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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