Korea on alert for future vaccine supply amid more variants, price hikes

Korea on alert for future vaccine supply amid more variants, price hikes

Arriving passengers are guided by quarantine officials at Incheon International Airport, Tuesday, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yonhap

Korea reports first 2 cases of Delta Plus variant

By Bahk Eun-ji

Concerns are rising over possible future shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, as more and more countries are considering adopting booster shots amid growing cases of variants, which reduce the immune responses of even already vaccinated people.

Some vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, also raised the prices of their products for Europe, a move that is likely to affect Korea in next year’s procurement.

According to media reports, many countries are seeking booster shots for elderly or vulnerable groups.

Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates of any country, started offering booster shots on July 12 for vulnerable groups, and on July 30 for elderly people who had received their second jabs at least five months ago.

The U.K. and Germany are planning to offer the shots from September, while the U.S. is also considering it.

The need for booster shots has been raised, as the Delta variant has been spreading fast around the world and even fully vaccinated people often contract it, with immunity decreasing as time goes by following vaccination.

The Delta variant is spreading fast in Korea as well. From July 25 to 31, among the 2,109 confirmed cases where a variant was detected, 1,929 ― or 91.5 percent ― were caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Now that the Delta variant has become a common strain here, two cases of “Delta Plus,” a subvariant of the Delta variant, have also been reported here.

The KDCA said that the two people were infected with the Delta Plus variant even after they were fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Not much is known about the subvariant yet, which was first discovered in Europe in March and has been detected in about 20 countries. But it is feared to be as transmissible as the Delta variant and infect even those who have been vaccinated.

The variant itself could pose a greater threat to the virus battle of Korea, where some 20 million people, or 39 percent of the population, have received at least the first dose, but adding to the concerns is fiercer competition that is expected among countries to secure more vaccines for booster shots against multiple variants.

Korea has also begun to discuss the need for booster shots, although it is still working on getting everyone the first and second shots in its goal to achieve herd immunity by November.

“We are reviewing and discussing details over when to introduce additional doses of vaccines,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, head of the KDCA, in a briefing, Monday. “Through the supplementary budget, we have secured a prepayment budget to introduce 50 million doses of vaccines in 2022. We have begun negotiations with overseas pharmaceutical companies and plan to sign contracts in the second half of this year,” Jeong said.

However, the price increases by Pfizer and Moderna could affect the contract for next year’s procurement, according to the government. “This is the beginning of the negotiations so it is premature how the price rises will affect them. But we believe it will,” senior health official Sohn Young-rae said.

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