South Korea may be able to secure additional vaccines for 20 million people from US drugmaker Novavax, President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.
The deal is still under negotiation, Moon said, while earlier Korean media reports suggested only being able to cover 10 million people.
Earlier on this day, Moon had a virtual meeting with Novavax’ CEO Stanley Erck, during which they held an amicable discussion regarding the latter’s probable technology license issuance to SK Bioscience this month, Cheong Wa Dae said.
This is a separate deal from the existing contract manufacturing deal SK Bioscience has with Novavax. Korea wants to purchase all of the Novavax bulk produced using the licensed-out technology, according to the president’s office.
Including the Novavax doses, Korea would potentially have enough vaccines to cover 76 million people -- far surpassing the nation’s population of 51 million.
Moon made the remarks during his visit to the SK Bioscience factory in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. SK Bioscience is the Korean vaccine company currently contracted to produce Novavax’s investigational COVID-19 vaccine NVX-CoV2373.
“Starting February, the prioritized cohort will receive vaccination,” Moon said, “By November at the latest we will have formed herd immunity.”
The Korean government said earlier that the state will offer compensation to those who experience vaccine side effects, and that foreign residents in Korea will also receive free vaccinations.
“Should COVID-19 persist in the long term, domestic development of vaccines is of utmost importance for stable vaccination and state autonomy,” Moon said.
“As SK Bioscience perseveres for its own research, Korea will be able to inoculate with homegrown vaccines starting 2022.”
NVX-CoV2373 is made from a stabilized form of the coronavirus spike protein using Novavax’s recombinant protein nanoparticle technology. The purified protein antigens in the vaccine cannot replicate and cannot cause COVID-19 infection, according to the company.
The vaccine can be stored and handled at room temperatures between 1 and 8 degrees Celsius.
Novavax is currently undergoing a phase 3 clinical trial of the vaccine in the US.
According to a Washington Post report on Wednesday, the company is struggling to keep trial participants from dropping out to get Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations.
The Washington Post reported that a significant number of the Novavax trial candidates aged over 65 were asking to be “unblinded” to find out if they had been given a placebo and should therefore be vaccinated with the now available Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Novavax is contract manufacturing its vaccines with Biofabri in Spain, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in the US and in the UK, SIIPL in India, SK Bioscience in Korea and Takeda Pharmaceutical in Japan.
By Lim Jeong-yeo (email@example.com