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KDCA chief got second AstraZeneca shot behind closed doors, four weeks after the first

KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong receives her first AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot on April 1 at a public health center in Cheongju, a North Chungcheong Province city where the agency is headquartered. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong receives her first AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot on April 1 at a public health center in Cheongju, a North Chungcheong Province city where the agency is headquartered. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)


Jeong Eun-kyeong, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s commissioner, received her second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in April, four weeks after the first one as opposed to the recommended 11 to 12 weeks, the agency said Friday.

The belated announcement came after the agency initially declined to publicly respond to a question from The Korea Herald at Friday’s televised briefing. When asked when she planned to get her second dose of the vaccine, she said it was a private matter.

Then, in a text message to reporters later, the agency said the commissioner had already received her second AstraZeneca shot April 30, four weeks after she got the first one on April 1. Her second vaccination went unannounced before the question popped up Friday.

The news contradicts what Jeong said at the time of her first vaccination.

Jeong said in an interview at a public health center in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, after she got the first shot that she would be receiving her second dose after the recommended interval.

“Most countries require that the two shots be taken between eight and 12 weeks apart -- as with Korea’s guidance. I don’t plan on getting mine outside the formally approved range,” she said.

The nurse at the Cheongju public health center, who inoculated Jeong with the first dose, confirmed to The Korea Herald in a phone call that she had given her a second AstraZeneca vaccination at the end of April.

“I think the commissioner had to get the second shot before the usual time over some exceptional circumstances,” she said. She said the public health center had not made this exception for anyone else.

Most people who get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Korea must wait 11 to 12 weeks to get a second dose. This means that 60- to 74-year-olds, for whom AstraZeneca vaccinations just opened this month, won’t be getting their second doses until late August or early September. After only a first shot, they remain vulnerable to infection with variants and are excluded from the exemptions from social distancing rules granted to people who are fully vaccinated.

Kim Ki-nam, the director of the agency’s vaccination planning group, said over the phone Friday, “For most, the prescribed dosing interval for the AstraZeneca vaccine is 11 to 12 weeks, eight weeks at the minimum, per the national immunization advisory committee recommendations.

“But technically, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety-authorized dosing schedule is four to 12 weeks.”

He added that exceptions would be made for government personnel traveling abroad for official duties and other “essential business” travelers. “Unless they belonged to these two categories, people would not have a choice over when they can get their second dose,” he said.

Previously, Kim said in a May 25 briefing that the agency was not considering adjusting the AstraZeneca vaccine’s 11-to-12-week dosing schedule, which is considerably longer than the three weeks for Pfizer, the other two-dose regimen vaccine deployed in the country.

“Postponing the second dose at 11 to 12 weeks is intended to stretch the resources we’ve got so that we inoculate as many people as possible with first doses,” he said.

The agency said Jeong’s early second dose was due to her possible visit to the US for a partnership between the Korea National Institute of Health and its US counterpart, the National Institutes of Health, involving mRNA vaccine research. But the head of the Korean institute is Kwon Jun-wook, not Jeong.

President Moon Jae-in was fully vaccinated ahead of his summit with US President Joe Biden, having received his second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine five weeks after the first.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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