SEOUL, June 29 (Reuters) - South Korea plans to secure more mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 to use them as a booster shot next year for its entire population, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Tuesday.
South Korea has already agreed to buy 106 million doses of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to cover full vaccination of its population of 52 million this year.
The government is also hoping to achieve herd immunity earlier than its November target by inoculating at least 70% of its population with a minimum of one vaccine dose.
“The government plans to first secure vaccine supply, mostly mRNA ones, enough to vaccinate the entire public with at least one shot next year,” Kim said.
South Korea has given at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to around 30% of its population, and large manufacturing employers will start inoculating their employees at their in-house clinics next month.
Kim also said it was necessary to broaden the age group of people eligible for vaccination to ensure students can safely return to schools in the autumn amid the spread of more infectious variants. It is also unclear how long immunity protection lasts on those people who have already been vaccinated.
Pfizer’s shot has been approved for 12-15 year olds in Europe and the United States, and Moderna is aiming for approval for teenagers as data showed its shot has been found safe and effective.
In South Korea, the government has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine on 16-year olds and above, while the Moderna shot can be given to those aged 18 and older.
While the number of daily local infections have remained below 700 since early this month, more transmissible variants are on the rise.
South Korea has so far reported a total of 2,492 cases of COVID-19 variants, of which 83% were the Alpha variant, first detected in Britain, and 10% were the Delta variant, first identified in India, according to data from Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
South Korea reported 595 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 156,167. The total caseload includes early infections not linked to several variants that the World Health Organization identified this year.
The death toll from COVID-19 stands at 2,017. (Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)