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Biden’s vaccine export plans boost ‘vaccine swap’ prospects for Korea

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House in Washington on Monday. (AFP-Yonhap)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House in Washington on Monday. (AFP-Yonhap)

US President Joe Biden on Monday (US time) announced plans to send an additional 20 million doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines to other countries by the end of June, giving a boost to Seoul’s prospects of securing vaccines through a swap arrangement with Washington.

The pledged vaccines were produced by US drugmakers Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, and this is the first time that the US is sending shots authorized for domestic use to other nations. This brings the total earmarked for overseas shipment to 80 million.

Earlier, Washington promised to ship 60 million jabs’ worth of the British-developed AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to be authorized in the US. Shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine will begin once it clears a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world,” Biden said at the White House. “We’ll share these vaccines in the service of ending the pandemic everywhere. And we will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries.”

In his speech Biden stressed that the amount the US pledged was more than any other country had shared, noting that Russia and China had donated 15 million doses each.

He also didn’t specify which countries would be receiving the additional doses, but the US has so far shared about 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico.

Biden’s latest move comes as the US faces pressure to share more of its stockpile with other countries that are struggling to secure enough, as its supplies outpace the demand.

It also arrives amid Seoul’s request for Washington to provide its stockpile through a “vaccine swap” arrangement, under which the US would provide vaccines now and get paid back later.

South Korea is currently facing a vaccine shortage amid a shipment delay and tight supply, with just over 7 percent of its 52 million people having received their first shots.

President Moon Jae-in is set to meet Biden on Friday in Washington for their first-ever summit, with the possibility of a vaccine partnership expected to top their agenda.

“Various methods will be discussed in connection with vaccine cooperation between the two countries,” a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that consultations to determine details were still underway.

As Seoul is also aiming to become a global production center for vaccines, related talks to host US-made vaccines to be produced at manufacturing facilities in Korea could also materialize.

Moon’s chief of staff Lee Ho-seung has stressed that securing “vaccine partnership” with Washington is a key agenda.

During a radio interview last week, Lee said the US possesses original technology and raw materials for vaccines, while South Korea has the world’s No. 2 biological manufacturing capability. With the two combined, South Korea can become a global vaccine production hub, adding such vision could be discussed during the summit. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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