A USFK medical officer checks a Janssen vaccine vial. (Yonhap)
Seoul’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday flatly denied speculation over the reasons behind Washington’s decision to send Janssen's COVID-19 vaccines for the Korean military, saying the vaccine type has been decided through consultations between the two countries.
“The Janssen vaccine was the most proper option to cover 550,000 people among the stockpiles secured by the US Defense Department,” the ministry’s spokesperson Boo Seung-chan told a media briefing, refuting claims that the US was offloading less popular vaccines to Korea.
Regarding the age restriction on the single-shot vaccine, he added the ministry has a separate inoculation plan for soldiers under 30 with Pfizer shots that start next week.
In a recent summit with President Moon Jae-in, President Joe Biden pledged to supply vaccines enough to inoculate 550,000 Korean servicemen who work in close contact with US troops.
Following the announcement, Korean officials said Sunday a total of 1.01 million doses of the Janssen vaccine will arrive later this week but the batches will be rolled out for military-affiliated personnel, reservists and civil defense corps aged 30 and over.
Even though the supply amount is almost double than what had originally been promised, the choice of vaccine had raised speculation because the Janssen vaccine is restricted to people aged 30 or over due to possible risks of developing rare blood clots as a side effect. Most of the Korean soldiers, about 80 percent of the total, are in their 20s.
In the US where there is no such age restriction for the Janssen vaccine, only 3 percent of the population has received the Janssen shots, with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being preferred.
Asked if the US had sent Janssen vaccines to Korea because they were less popular, Boo dismissed the claims, stressing that the vaccine has already been administered on the US Forces Korea, the Korean Augmentation to the US Army and civilians who work on the US military bases here.
Regardless of the fuss over the vaccine type, the booking system for the new shipment of jabs saw temporary delays, after it was overloaded with an influx of reservations on Tuesday. About 3.7 million people, more than triple the supplies, made reservations to get the vaccine.
The Janssen vaccine is the third vaccine to be approved here following AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots. It is the first time the US has decided to donate locally authorized vaccines to a foreign country. The country had sent AstraZeneca vaccines to Canada and Mexico.
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com