BENGALURU: North Korea has requested COVID-19 vaccines and is expected to receive nearly two million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine by the first half of this year, said agencies leading the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme.
The COVAX Facility will distribute 1.99 million doses of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, according to the COVAX interim distribution report on Wednesday (Feb 3).
COVAX, which secures vaccines for poor countries, is co-led by the GAVI alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the UN Children's Fund.
It is the first official confirmation that the North has asked for international help, with the country's medical infrastructure is seen as woefully inadequate for dealing with any large-scale outbreak.
Pyongyang closed its borders in late January last year - the first country in the world to do so - in a bid to protect itself against the coronavirus.
It has long insisted that it has had no cases, with its leader Kim Jong Un reiterating the claim at a huge military parade in October.
Experts suggest that is unlikely, given the virus first emerged in neighbouring China, its main provider of trade and aid.
Pyongyang lashed out at South Korea's foreign minister in December for casting doubt over its claim that there were no coronavirus outbreaks there, warning of consequences for her "impudent" comment.
According to South Korea's spy agency in November, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against COVID-19 and its economic damage.
The border closure, along with a series of natural disasters over the summer, dealt a heavy blow to the North's economy, which has been under punishing US-led sanctions.