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Korea says it can vaccinate up to 14 million by end June

Johnson & Johnson vaccines allotted to current and former servicepeople 30 or older

May 31, 2021 - 17:22 By Kim Arin

Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, speaks during a news briefing. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government said Monday the country could vaccinate up to 14 million people by the end of June, 1 million more than the goal it made earlier this month.

Son Young-rae, the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s spokesperson, told reporters in a closed-door briefing that the extra Johnson & Johnson vaccines provided by the US were “sufficient to surpass the goal set for the year’s first half by at least a million.”

“The ministry will strive to get to 14 million vaccinations before June is over,” he said. “At the very least, vaccinating 13 million has gotten even more doable with the boost in the supply.”

According to the ministry, more than 1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be coming Korea’s way later this week -- almost double the amount pledged by the US President Joe Biden in his May 21 summit with President Moon Jae-in.

The initial Johnson & Johnson batch will be allotted to current and former service members, their family as well as defense officials. The government estimates there are 3.6 million people eligible for the vaccination, who can book their appointments in a first-come-first-served basis from Tuesday.

But they must be 30 or older in order to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is associated with risks of rare but serious blood clots in younger recipients. Troops younger than 30 who can’t get Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will be getting Pfizer’s instead.

Since Johnson & Johnson is administered as a one-dose regimen, its recipients will be able to enjoy exemptions from certain social distancing regulations two weeks after just a single round of vaccination, Son said. Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccine, the two vaccines currently deployed in Korea, require two doses to reach maximum protection.

The 1 million additional doses bring Korea’s stock of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to 7 million. The country had already secured 6 million doses of the vaccine through a December deal with the company.

More than 10 percent of Korea’s 51 million population has now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The number of people who have been fully vaccinated -- meaning they received both of the required shots -- reached 2 million, or 4 percent of the population.

Korea’s vaccination rate is picking up after weeks of sluggish rollout. Over the last seven days, an average of 183,022 doses were administered daily.

Korea confirmed 430 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, resulting from 27,409 tests. The cumulative total of known cases in the country since the start of the pandemic reached 140,340. Two more deaths were reported, bringing the countrywide death toll to 1,959.

By Kim Arin (