SEOUL: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Thursday (Feb 18) visited a factory that can make 10 million syringes a month and plans to double capacity to prevent shortages, as the nation rolls out its coronavirus vaccination campaign next week.
South Korea will begin inoculating about 750,000 healthcare workers against COVID-19 on Feb 26, as it struggles to tame its third and largest wave of outbreaks. It plans to reach herd immunity across its population of 52 million by November.
Moon visited Poonglim Pharmatech, one of several suppliers of special syringes to be used for the programme. The plant makes low dead space syringes, which improve the efficiency of vaccines by 20 per cent by minimising drug residues left in needles, officials said.
Poonglim has beefed up its capacity to 10 million syringes a month from 4 million since December, assisted by technology and financial aid from Samsung Electronics and funding and regulatory support from the government.
The Ministry of Small- and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs) and Start-ups brokered the collaboration between Poonglim and Samsung under a scheme to partner major conglomerates with smaller firms to improve production and efficiency.
Samsung dispatched dozens of specialists to build "smart factories" to expand Poonglim's production lines within a month, work that would have taken at least a year without the tech giant's support, the ministry said.
Samsung's main contribution has been to help with automating production and innovative moulding technology to mass produce outstanding products, Moon said at Poonglim's factory in the southwestern city of Gunsan.
"The partnership between large and small companies and government support have so far been a key driver to secure supplies and exports of COVID-19 equipment, including testing kits, masks and protective clothing," he said.
Moon's office said Poonglim is further increasing its capacity with a new plant to manufacture up to 20 million syringes a month starting in March, partly for exports.
The company is in talks to supply more than 260 million syringes to about 20 countries amid global shortages, including 180 million to the United States and 75 million to Japan, according to former SME Minister Park Young-sun.
Poonglim said on Wednesday it has received approval for its product's emergency use from the US Food and Drug Administration.
South Korea plans to vaccinate about 43.5 million people this year, including 2.2 million in priority groups such as medical staff and the elderly in the first half.