S.Korea in talks to make 1 bln vaccine doses

South Korea is in talks with mRNA vaccine makers including Pfizer and Moderna to produce COVID-19 shots in the country.

And says it is ready to offer to make up to 1 billion doses immediately.

That's according to a senior government official.

The plan, if approved, would help ease tight global supply of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in Asia which lags behind North America and Europe in vaccine rollouts.

It also puts South Korea a step closer to its ambition of becoming a major vaccine manufacturing center.

This is Lee Kang-ho, the director general for the global vaccine hub committee under South Korea's health ministry:

"There are only a few mRNA vaccine developers - Pfizer, Moderna, CureVac and BioNTech. Thus there's a limit to how much they can produce to meet global demand. South Korea is keen to help by offering its facilities to produce them."

South Korea already has deals to locally produce three coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Russia.

It also has a vaccine bottling and packaging deal with Moderna.

Another government source said the local vaccine makers include Hanmi Pharmaceuticals and Quratis.

Hanmi confirmed it has a big capacity reserved for a diabetes drug by pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which can be used for COVID-19 vaccine production as the project has stalled.

The company's senior vice president Kim Soo-jin said Hanmi has been reaching out to vaccine developers in the last year.

Quratis, which makes a tuberculosis vaccine, said its new factory built last year can now be used for mRNA vaccine production.

BioNTech declined to comment, Moderna and CureVac did not reply to Reuters' requests for comments.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company is making efforts to enhance its COVID-19 vaccine supply chain but added that they do not have specific announcements at this time.

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