SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will authorise the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for people aged 65 years and older, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Thursday, a move that will allow the country to ramp up its immunisation drive.
The country has been rolling out the vaccine since the last week of February, beginning with the elderly and health workers, but had excluded more than 370,000 over-65s in nursing homes citing a lack of clinical trial data on the age group.
Real-world data from Britain has now shown AstraZeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccines are both more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisations in over-80s after one shot.
“Vaccination had been postponed to those aged 65 and over due to lack of evidence to determine the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but recently, data to prove its efficacy for the elderly has been released in the UK,” Chung told a government meeting.
South Korea would begin inoculating 376,000 patients and staff aged 65 and older in nursing hospitals and other facilities this month, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) official Kwon Jun-wook said at a briefing.
Kwon said he expected that age group, which has seen the majority of reported deaths, to reach herd immunity levels by the end of September.
Health authorities had also included around 20,000 flight attendants in the list for second-quarter vaccine recipients, as they were vulnerable to more transmissible variants and were exempt from self-quarantine.
South Korea has so far reported a total of 257 new virus variants, including 154 cases of the variant first identified in Britain and 21 of the variant discovered in South Africa, according to the KDCA.
Another 7 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would be rolled out from the last week of May, with 7 million of Pfizer’s product by June. The KDCA is in talks with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to import their vaccines in the second quarter.
The KDCA said 500,635 people had received a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as of Wednesday. South Korea reported 465 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 94,198 infections, with 1,652 deaths.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Stephen Coates)