South Korea seeks to reassure ageing residents after raising COVID-19 vaccine questions

South Korea seeks to reassure ageing residents after raising COVID-19 vaccine questions

Elderly men gather to play Korean chess outside a park in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: Elderly men wearing masks gather to play Korean chess outside a park which is temporarily closed due to concerns for the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Seoul, South Korea on Nov 25, 2020. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

SEOUL: With one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, South Korea this week sought to reassure elderly residents as it said it would push ahead with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine but is still examining its efficacy for people older than 65.

A panel of South Korean advisers has urged caution over the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people older than 65, citing a lack of data, the food and drug safety ministry said last week.

On Monday (Feb 8), the government confirmed it would go ahead with plans to distribute the company's vaccine, but that regulators will decide later this week whether to provide it to older citizens.

No date is set for the start of the vaccination efforts, but Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong said some 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, enough for some 750,000 people, will arrive in the final week of February.

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Nearly 16 per cent of South Korea's population is 65 years or older. Several European nations have said they plan to restrict the vaccine to younger people, or are considering doing so, because of insufficient data on its efficacy in the elderly.

AstraZeneca denied media reports that its vaccine was not very effective for people over 65, saying a strong immune response to the vaccine had been shown in blood analysis of elderly trial participants.

In an attempt to address public concerns, the KDCA held a public question-and-answer event on Monday where health officials sought to reassure residents.

"If you ask me if I would let my 80 something mother get an AstraZeneca vaccine, yes, I would recommend that she receive any vaccine that's available," said Nam Jae-hwan, a professor at the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul, who spoke at the briefing as an adviser to the KDCA.

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Plans call for healthcare workers and the elderly to be vaccinated as soon as this month, with the goal of reaching herd immunity for South Korea's 52 million people by November.

The KDCA reported 289 new daily coronavirus cases as of midnight on Sunday, the lowest since late November.

The government on Saturday eased curfews on restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul amid a public backlash over tight curbs to contain COVID-19.

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Source: Reuters/lk

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