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Vaccine rollout hiccup worrisome amid delayed shipment

A shipment of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine is being unloaded from a United Parcel Service cargo plane at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
A shipment of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine is being unloaded from a United Parcel Service cargo plane at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's nationwide inoculation against the novel coronavirus is expected to lose pace due to vaccination delivery delays as health authorities aim to achieve so-called herd immunity by November.

Earlier this week, the authorities announced that a planned delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University to the country has been pushed back to the third week of April.

Initially, 690,000 doses, or shots for 345,000 people, of the AstraZeneca vaccines through the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project, COVAX, were to arrive in the country earlier in the day.

The delayed shipment comes as the authorities have been speeding up the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to people aged 65 or older after the European Union's medicines regulator assessed that there is no link to blood clots found in some recipients.

But the plan has been postponed, and the amount of the delivery has also been reduced to about 62.6 percent, or 432,000 doses, due to a production delay by the manufacturer.

Health authorities said 7 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines it has procured through a contract with the pharmaceutical company will be delivered between May and June, adding that talks are under way to expedite the process.

Amid mounting concerns over the possible delays, health authorities said they are considering extending an inter-dose interval from the current 10 to 12 weeks for AstraZeneca products.

With the extension, the secured vaccines for the second shots can be used for others for their first shots, they said.

Meanwhile, a second batch of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccines for around 250,000 members of the general public aged 75 and over and other virus-vulnerable groups arrived in the country earlier in the day.

The products are the second batch provided under a direct contract between the US pharmaceutical firm and the Seoul government. Pfizer products for 250,000 people first arrived last week.

The two batches are part of the contract for 13 million people.

Around 3.64 million people aged 75 and older will begin to be vaccinated with Pfizer vaccines on Thursday.

Vaccines provided by Pfizer will be given at 22 state-run vaccination facilities, as the products require ultra-cold chain storage, the authorities said.

Earlier, the first batch of Pfizer vaccines under COVAX for around 50,000 front-line health care workers treating COVID-19 patients was distributed in late February.

Since Feb. 26, when the country initiated its vaccination program, a total of 852,202 people have been given COVID-19 vaccine shots, about 1.64 percent of the country's 52 million population. AstraZeneca's vaccine took up 791,454, while Pfizer's accounted for 60,748.

On Wednesday, the country reported 506 more COVID-19 cases, bouncing back above 500 and raising the total caseload to 103,088. It marked the highest daily tally in four days. (Yonhap)
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