SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to spend $146 million to procure coronavirus vaccines, initially aiming to secure a supply for 30 million people, or 60% of its population, as it battles persistent outbreaks of new cases.
The population target is higher than a World Health Organization (WHO) goal for the early purchase of supplies for 20% of the world’s most vulnerable people, and at least 40% agreed by European Union nations, Britain and EU partners for their populations.
While South Korean authorities would like to inoculate the entire population of 52 million, uncertainty around any vaccine’s safety, efficacy and development was limiting investment, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a cabinet meeting.
Global vaccine makers are racing to develop an effective vaccine against the virus that has killed more than 925,000 people since it emerged in China late last year.
Chung said the government would negotiate with relevant international organisations and vaccine makers to secure the supply and would buy more as developments unfolded.
In August, South Korea said it planned to join the COVAX facility, a global novel coronavirus vaccine allocation plan co-led by the WHO, which aims to help buy and fairly distribute the shots.
South Korea will buy 20 million doses of vaccine from the COVAX scheme, enough for 10 million people, and 40 million doses from private drug-makers, health authorities said in a statement.
The government has prepared 172 billion won ($146 million) to pay for vaccines, including $70 million for the 20 million doses from the COVAX facility.
South Korea has been one of the world’s coronavirus mitigation success stories, with an aggressive testing and tracing strategy, but it has nevertheless been battling persistent spikes in infections.
It reported 106 new coronavirus cases as of Monday, taking total infections to 22,391 with 367 deaths.
SK Bioscience in July agreed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine, which has shown promise, and signed a deal with Novavax Inc last month to produce a component of the U.S. drug developer’s experimental coronavirus vaccine.
($1 = 1,179.8300 won)
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa, Robert Birsel)