|President Moon Jae-in puts on his face mask after finishing a New Year press conference held at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday. / Yonhap
By Jun Ji-hye
President Moon Jae-in said Monday that the country's drug safety ministry will thoroughly verify the safety of COVID-19 vaccines before the beginning of inoculations next month, in an apparent effort to relieve public concern over their safety after a small number of deaths following vaccination were reported in other countries.
"People can rest assured that the vaccines are safe," Moon said during a New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae. "The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will examine COVID-19 vaccines (that are developed by global pharmaceutical companies) in accordance with domestic standards before approving them."
Moon said all vaccines potentially have some side effects, ranging from mild symptoms such as minor discomfort to more serious ones.
"The government will provide compensation if serious, nonconventional side effects occur," he said, noting that the administration will provide the vaccines free to everybody.
When asked about whether he is willing to get vaccinated first as some leaders of other countries have, Moon said he would "not avoid it if somebody needs to set an example and dispel worries over the safety of the vaccines."
But he added that it was premature to say Korean citizens would shun vaccination, saying that the President and civil servants, other than those on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, would not need to be prioritized.
The comments came amid mounting concerns over the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines as people have seen news reports of deaths following vaccination in other countries.
In Norway, 29 elderly people have died after receiving Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine.
As the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech SE was the only one available in Norway until Friday, "all deaths are thus linked to this vaccine," the Norwegian Medicines Agency was quoted as saying by Bloomberg, Saturday.
Last week, it was also reported that a doctor in the United States died 16 days after receiving Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine.
Korea has signed a contract with Pfizer to buy vaccines for 10 million people.
|A health professional is given an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at the Refena Center in Pamplona, Spain, Sunday. / Reuters-Yonhap
Amid growing concerns, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also Monday, to collect detailed information about other countries that have begun administering vaccines and share it with related ministries.
"Norway's cases have much to teach us as Korea is set to begin inoculations next month," Chung said during a government meeting on its COVID-19 response.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 389 more COVID-19 cases including 366 local infections for Sunday, raising the total caseload to 72,729.
The nation's daily new cases rose by the smallest number in nearly two months ― after it had remained in the 500s in recent days ― apparently due to tightened social distancing measures, but also reduced testing over the weekend.