South Korea hails arrival of virus vaccines as first step in 'return to normal'

Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
·1-min read
People wearing masks take a walk amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at a Hanriver Park in Seoul

By Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea shipped its first doses of a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, transferring AstraZeneca vaccines from a production facility in the country to a warehouse outside the capital of Seoul in preparation for this week's inoculation drive.

Healthcare workers are scheduled to receive the first batch of AstraZeneca PLC's vaccine from Friday, as South Korea looks to protect 10 million high-risk people by July, on its way to reaching herd immunity by November.

AstraZeneca shots enough for about 750,000 people will be distributed from a production facility of SK Chemicals Co Ltd unit SK bioscience to immunisation centres across the country starting on Wednesday.

"We start the first historic vaccination on Friday with the vaccines rolled out today," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting. "This is the first step that will lead us to a long-waited return to normal."

Last week, a government poll showed almost 94% of 367,000 healthcare workers aged 64 or younger in priority groups said they were ready to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite concerns over its efficacy in older people.

"The government is thoroughly preparing the entire process of vaccine roll-out from shipment to transportation, distribution, vaccination and adverse reaction management so that the public can receive the shots with confidence," Chung said.

Seoul acting mayor Seo Jung-hyup on Wednesday said the large-scale vaccination plan will only be possible with widespread public participation.

"In order to implement the Seoul city vaccination plan according to the timetable, the trust and cooperation of citizens are absolutely necessary," he told a briefing.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Christopher Cushing)