SEOUL, Dec. 8 (CNA) - South Korea said on Monday (Dec 7) it has signed deals to provide coronavirus vaccines for 44 million people next year, as the country battles a wave of infections that authorities say could overwhelm its medical system.
The government has arranged to buy 20 million doses each from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, and another 4 million doses from Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, enough to cover up to 34 million people, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing.
Additional doses for 10 million people would be procured through the World Health Organization's global vaccine project, known as COVAX, he added.
"We had initially planned to secure vaccines for 30 million people but decided to purchase more, as there is uncertainty over the success of the vaccine candidates and the competition is intense among countries for early purchases," he said.
Shipments of the vaccine would begin no later than March, but authorities would observe how the vaccines worked in other countries for several months to ensure safety. Widespread vaccination was likely to begin in the second half of next year.
Despite the current surge in cases, South Korea's relative success in tamping down previous waves meant the government did not need to rush a vaccine, Park said.
"We don't see the need to hurriedly begin vaccination without ensuring that the vaccines' risks have been verified," he said.
The first vaccines would likely go to medical workers, elderly and medically vulnerable people, and social workers.