|People are observed for possible side effects after receiving a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in Seodaemun District of Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
1st shot vaccination rate to reach 70% by Friday
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government has decided to allow the use of leftover COVID-19 vaccines for second shots, in a bid to speed up its vaccination drive amid the unrelenting increases in coronavirus infections nationwide.
Leftover vaccines refer to spare doses that have become available after someone canceled or did not show up for their appointment. Eligible recipients can book the slot for a "no show" vaccine through a real-time search system on Kakao and Naver.
Starting Friday, second doses can be booked through the leftover vaccine reservation system, according to the COVID-19 Vaccination Taskforce. Previously, the leftover doses had not been available for second shots.
In addition, the government has decided to shorten the dosing interval for people booking the leftover vaccines. While the gap between two shots of the mRNA vaccines ― Pfizer and Moderna ― is set at six weeks, people can reserve leftover doses three weeks after receiving a first shot of the Pfizer vaccine or four weeks after the Moderna vaccine.
But the health authorities noted that recipients who are not booking their second shots through the leftover booking system will still get their second dose six weeks later.
Such changes to the policy are expected to enable more people to get their second shots ahead of schedule.
As of Thursday, a total of 35.41 million people, or 69 percent of the population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while around 42 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
|A smartphone user touches a device screen showing maps of available leftover vaccine slots in areas of Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap|
At this pace, the authorities expect the first shot vaccination rate to top 70 percent by the end of Friday, achieving the government's goal before the Chuseok long weekend which begins Saturday.
The vaccine milestone is a significant achievement for Korea as it had been falling behind other countries in terms of vaccination rate. But medical experts view that this will have little effect on curbing the current fourth wave of infections.
The COVID-19 spreading across the country is showing no signs of abating, with the number of daily new infections hovering around 2,000.
The KDCA reported 2,008 new cases for Thursday, including 1,973 local infections, raising the aggregated total to 281,938. The figure has stayed above 1,000 for more than two months.
"We will not see the daily cases lowering with only a 70 percent first vaccination rate. Some studies show that one dose of the vaccine gives only 30 percent immunity," Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, told the Korea Times.
Chon predicted that daily new infections may begin to fall from the end of October when the country is expected to have fully vaccinated 70 percent of its population.
Regarding the use of leftover vaccines for second doses, she said, "The measure will enable a more effective use of the leftover doses, but it will have limited effects. The no show vaccines tend to be popular among the younger population, while the elderly prefer to wait for their scheduled appointment."
She believes the government should consider shortening the mRNA vaccine interval for all recipients, not only for those choosing to receive the leftover vaccines, in order to boost the vaccination drive.