By Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea’s health minister apologised for COVID-19 vaccine shortages on Monday, saying U.S. drugmaker Moderna Inc would deliver less than half its planned shipment this month due to production issues.
Suffering a fourth wave of infections, South Korea has posted record numbers of new cases in recent weeks, while its inoculation campaign has been dogged by vaccine shortages and shipment delays.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Moderna had informed South Korea that it would only be able to deliver less than half the 8.5 million doses it had been due to ship in August.
“I once again apologise for causing concerns among the people because of Moderna’s vaccine supply problems,” Kwon told a briefing.
The U.S. drugmaker had already missed its late-July shipment, saying some manufacturing partners were facing delays due to laboratory testing operations.
Kwon said the government had complained to Moderna, and a high-level delegation would be visiting the company to discuss how best to remedy the situation.
He said Moderna had apologised and pledged to work to make good the promised shipments.
Moderna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
South Korea has a contract to buy 40 million doses from Moderna, and just about 2.4 million have arrived so far, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The delays came as South Korea is set to open vaccine reservations for all adults over 18 years for the first time late on Monday, with vaccinations using Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech products to start on Aug. 26.
The reservations will proceed as planned, but it will take six weeks to get a second shot after the first dose, instead of four weeks, KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said.
South Korea was praised for its handling of earlier major outbreaks with thorough tracing and testing, but a slow vaccination uptake has overlapped with a surge in more transmissible variants.
Some 45% of the 52 million population have had at least one dose of vaccine, while just 15% have been fully vaccinated as of Sunday midnight, KDCA data showed.
South Korea aims to immunise over 70% of the population by September.
President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with senior aides that despite vaccine shortages, the goal will be reached by maximising the efficiency of available supplies.
The KDCA reported 1,492 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, raising total infections to 212,448, with 2,125 deaths.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore)