Government continues to struggle with securing vaccines
By Baek Byung-yeul
Korea is struggling to secure a sufficient supply of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines as the government decided to replace those with the Pfizer vaccines for employees working in large manufacturing companies such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motor.
Company officials said Tuesday that they recently received a notification from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) that the Moderna vaccines for their employees had been replaced with the Pfizer vaccines, different from originally planned arrangements.
In June, the government was planning to offer the Moderna vaccines to people working in the country's core industries, such as the semiconductor, automotive and IT sectors, regardless of their age. The scheme is due to concerns that the loss to the national economy could be enormous if the virus spreads in those key industries.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the KDCA, said in a briefing on July 19 that the delivery of the Moderna vaccines from the United States has been delayed due to quality inspection and delivery issues. On Tuesday, the KDCA confirmed that 43 workplaces across the nation which have in-company doctors will receive Pfizer's vaccines starting from July 27.
"The Moderna vaccine supply, scheduled for the third week of July, has been postponed to the last week of July, due to quality inspections and delivery issues," Jeong said. "We plan to discuss with the Ministry of Employment and Labor and companies to confirm the shift to the Pfizer vaccine."
A company representative who refused to be named said, "We were not notified of the reason why the government is changing the type of vaccine. However, we were notified that there will be no change in the vaccination schedule."
Samsung Electronics will start their vaccination drive at workplaces in Suwon, Gumi, Giheung, Hwaseong, Pyeongtaek and Cheonan. Other Samsung Group affiliates, such as Samsung SDI and Samsung Display, also notified their employees that they will be given the Pfizer vaccine.
Hyundai Motor Group also notified their employees at Namyang R&D Center and Kia's manufacturing plants that they will be given the Pfizer vaccine. SK hynix was told by the KDCA that there would likely be a change in the type of vaccine offered from Moderna's to Pfizer's, and LG Display will also use the Pfizer vaccine for their employees.
"As vaccinating employees in large-scale workplaces is a part of the government's policy, there is no further action for us to take related to the government's notification. We just follow and implement the government's plans," another company representative said.
At a time when the country's virus cases are spiking, concerns are growing about securing a sufficient supply of the Moderna vaccine, seeing as the health authorities have now decided to add the Pfizer vaccine to their existing plans to use the Moderna one, which will start from July 26, for people in their 50s.
Regarding this decision, the KDCA explained that they decided to use the Pfizer vaccine to more stably vaccinate people in their 50s, because Moderna's vaccine distribution in July is concentrated at the end of the month.
However, the government has been hit hard as it previously vowed to secure a large supply of the Moderna vaccine within this third quarter for people in their 50s to receive both first and second shots.
Early this year, Korea set a goal of attaining herd immunity for the population by the end of November. Also, expectations rose when Samsung Biologics inked a deal with Moderna to manufacture the latter's vaccines at the former's plant in Korea during President Moon Jae-in's visit to Washington, D.C. in May.
Samsung Biologics is scheduled to start manufacturing the Moderna vaccine in August or September, but it will take more time for people within Korea to see these available in local clinics, as agreement needs to be made for domestic use of the locally-produced vaccine.