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The Peninsula

Public Health and Economics at Odds in Korea’s Vaccination Debate

Published December 21, 2020
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Korea purchased 44 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which are expected to arrive in February 2021.
  • 36 million doses have been reserved for essential workers and people who are vulnerable, but a wider public vaccination plan has not yet been decided.
  • The government’s initial proposal for vaccination leaves out one-third of the population because clinical trials have not yet been analyzed for side effects, particularly for adolescents and pregnant women.

Implications: The government’s plan to minimize the public health risks from the potential misapplication of the COVID-19 vaccine clashes with the business community’s desire to quickly restore normal market activities. Although prioritized groups will be vaccinated immediately, the government emphasized the importance of waiting until clinical trials prove that the vaccine is safe for general distribution. In response, small business owners who bore the heaviest economic burden of maintaining social distancing claimed that faster vaccination would lead to a stronger economic recovery. Meanwhile, concerns that some of the vaccines might produce unexpected side effects is contributing to some health experts insisting that the government secure more vaccines.

Context: With the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, some countries have started to provide vaccination immediately in an effort to rapidly restore economic activity. However, the current Korean administration may be placing significant emphasis on maintaining public confidence in the public health system because the previous administration was heavily criticized for its response to the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The Moon administration also faced recent criticism after flu shots led to 13 deaths in October. In this environment, the government may want to ensure that public trust in the health infrastructure of the country is not further damaged by any unexpected side-effects of COVID-19 vaccines.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo and Chris Lee.

Picture from flickr account of syed zaheer

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