|Vials of Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine are placed in this illustration picture, March 24. Reuters-Yonhap|
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government may need to consider introducing Russian or Chinese COVID-19 vaccines amid lingering production uncertainties, as many countries worldwide are competing to secure the products that are in limited supply.
Although vaccines from Russia and China were not included in the nation's initial procurement plan, the health authorities have been considering them as alternative options in the case of continued unstable vaccine shipments.
Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong stated in February that Russia's Sputnik V was being considered as an alternative option, saying, "We will continue to review the need for additional vaccines due to uncertainties about new variants or supply issues."
TASS news agency reported Tuesday, citing the Embassy of the Russian Federation to Korea, that the Korean government was reviewing the registration of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, with all the necessary documents already handed over at the beginning of the year.
"Registration of our anti-coronavirus medicines including Sputnik V is being considered by the Korean authorities. All documents that are needed for vaccine registration were submitted to authorized agencies at the beginning of this year," the agency reported.
This was also written on the Russian section of the embassy's website.
But the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and the KDCA said Wednesday that they have not received official documents on Sputnik V and no discussions were underway.
Sputnik V became the world's first registered COVID-19 vaccine after Russia approved its use in August 2020. According to global market research firm Statista, the vaccine has been approved in 57 countries around the world as of March 29.
Although the vaccine initially met skepticism worldwide as Russia had cleared its use ahead of full clinical trials, a recent study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, showed it was 91 percent effective against the coronavirus.
The Chinese-made vaccine, Sinovac, which has shown a protection rate of 80 percent to 90 percent within two months after administering two shots, is largely being used across countries in the Middle East and Asia.
Some called on Korea to consider introducing the Russian and Chinese vaccines, as its plan to secure AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines has recently faced setbacks due to their unstable supply.
Cheon Eun-mi, a pulmonologist at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, said that although the government faces challenges in securing enough doses in a short period of time, it should be prudent in introducing new products that were not included in its initial plan.
"Although Sputnik V has been proven to be safe through Phase 3 clinical trials, there is not enough accumulated real-world data on the vaccine to this date. As for Sinovac, it is still going through Phase 3 clinical trials in China," she told The Korea Times.
Cheon also pointed out that aggressively securing vaccines that are less effective against the virus may not be a good idea in case of the emergence of new variants.
Therefore, she advised, instead of bringing in new products, which may lead to public anxiety over the overall vaccination plan, the government should put a bigger focus on curbing the virus spread through tightened social distancing measures and lowering cases of severely ill patients by using domestically developed COVID-19 treatments.