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Getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Korea: What’s the deal for foreigners?

A health care worker at a Seoul clinic fills a syringe with a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Yonhap)
A health care worker at a Seoul clinic fills a syringe with a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Yonhap)
All foreigners staying long-term in South Korea are offered COVID-19 vaccinations, and anyone planning to get shots here should know some things about the process. The following information is based on the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s replies Friday.

Foreigners who aren’t registered or subscribed to the national health insurance service can receive COVID-19 vaccinations only at public health centers when it is their turn. But at the time of vaccination their stay in the country must be more than 90 days.

This includes people staying here illegally. Undocumented foreigners can sign up for and receive vaccinations at public health centers.

Long-term residents who lack registration numbers or are exempt from alien registration can get temporary codes at community centers after presenting their passports or other formal identification.

Those covered by the national health insurance service can receive the vaccines at public health centers, as well as at other designated medical institutions.

Foreigners are subject to the same rules as Korean nationals when it comes to order of priority. Until June, people 60 years of age and older, health care workers and other workers in essential fields take priority. In July vaccinations will gradually open up to adults in other age groups, in descending order of age, with the minimum age being 18.

“Leftover vaccines” -- doses intended for people who don’t show up for their appointments -- are not available to foreigners without alien registration numbers or national health insurance coverage.

Getting on the standby list for leftover vaccines can be done through the Naver or Kakao mobile applications, which require an identity verification process. Korean nationals must present their social security numbers, and foreigners must present their alien registration numbers.

The wait-listing apps, which debuted Thursday on a pilot basis, are in Korean but may add other languages when they launch officially sometime in June.

The pre-vaccination questionnaire, which helps medical staff determine whether a person is fit to be vaccinated on a given day, is provided in 12 foreign languages including English, Japanese, Tagalog, Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese and Arabic.

The government website for reporting adverse events after a vaccination is only in Korean at the moment. It’s also possible to file a report via a health care practitioner.

The KDCA runs a 24-hour hotline that takes vaccine- and other COVID-19-related inquiries. It also offers interpretation services.

Korea on Thursday administered 711,194 doses of vaccines either from AstraZeneca or Pfizer, the only two currently offered in the country. The total number of vaccine doses given out so far exceeded 6 million.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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