The UN-backed vaccine-sharing program COVAX has allocated around 3 million doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine to North Korea, but it remains to be seen whether the reclusive regime will accept them.
According to Radio Free Asia on Thursday, Edwin Salvador, head of the World Health Organization office in Pyongyang, said the program allotted 2.97 million shots of China’s Sinovac to the North during the latest round of vaccine allocation. COVAX is a multinational program that distributes vaccines to developing countries.
“We are still waiting for the DPRK’s response to this offer,” Salvador was quoted as saying, using the acronym of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Gavi alliance, which co-leads COVAX with the World Health Organization, also confirmed the allocation, saying it is currently in talks with the North for the vaccine operation in the country.
Salvador added that considering the North’s good track record on routine immunization in the past, Pyongyang would be able to carry out the COVID-19 vaccinations with adequate technical support, such as with cold-chain logistics and monitoring and surveillance during its implementation.
“DPRK has already developed the national vaccine deployment plan and a technical assistance plan for its roll out has also been developed,” he said, adding the WHO is continuing to support the North Korean government on completing technical requirements to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
But it is uncertain whether Pyongyang will respond to the COVAX’s provision plan.
Earlier this year, COVAX was to provide nearly 2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shots to the North, but those have not yet been delivered as the regime refused to abide by the facility’s instructions, such as accepting monitoring from COVAX.
The Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency, in July said Pyongyang rejected the AstraZeneca vaccines due to concerns about potential side effects and that it is exploring options to secure shots from other countries.
The INSS also said the North appears reluctant to get Chinese vaccines as well due to concerns that they may not be as effective and safe, while it is more optimistic about Russian vaccines.
Pyongyang continues to claim it has had zero coronavirus infections, but observers say an outbreak there cannot be ruled out, given its exchanges and trade with neighboring China. But since the onset of the pandemic, the North has imposed the strictest quarantine measures of any nation, shutting down its borders and suspending international trade to prevent the spread of the virus.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org