North Korea has asked for China’s Sinovac COVID-19 shots offered by COVAX to be redirected to other countries low on vaccines, UNICEF said Tuesday, referring to a global vaccine program.
“The DPRK Ministry of Public Health has communicated that the 2.97 million doses being offered to the DPRK by COVAX may be relocated to severely affected countries in view of the limited global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and recurrent surge in some countries,” a UNICEF spokesperson told Voice of America.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is North Korea’s official name, was offered 2.97 million Sinovac doses through COVAX last month, and another 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots in July. None made its way to the regime because Pyongyang had been underprepared to receive any, UNICEF said.
Meanwhile, a prominent South Korean think tank said North Korea is looking to secure vaccines other than either Sinovac or AstraZeneca shots. In particular, Pyongyang is reluctant to take in the Chinese vaccine, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy, which is run by Seoul’s intelligence service.
The UNICEF spokesperson said the UN is addressing health concerns in North Korea, along with its perennial crisis involving water, food and sanitation. The spokesperson called on the international community to expand relief supplies to the regime because Pyongyang needs more than what it has received so far.
North Korea, which has not publicly confirmed any infections, has repeatedly rebuffed South Korea’s offer to work together on the COVID response. Pyongyang is also risking cutting ties to the outside world as it is recently seen resuming operations of a nuclear reactor to expand its nuclear arsenal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which detailed the latest activity in its annual report last week, said North Korea appears to have reactivated its Yongbyon nuclear complex that houses at least three reactors capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
The UN nuclear watchdog saw its inspectors expelled from the North in 2009 and it last conducted a nuclear test in 2017. Progress on Pyongyang’s denuclearization has been scant despite Seoul and Washington’s yearslong diplomatic outreach.
By Choi Si-young (email@example.com