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South Korea to resume first-round vaccinations after supply restored

New compensation scheme for severe side-effect cases unveiled

Citizens wait to monitor their condition after receiving COVID-19 vaccines at a local clinic in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
Citizens wait to monitor their condition after receiving COVID-19 vaccines at a local clinic in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

South Korea will resume offering first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this coming weekend, health authorities said Sunday. Their use was suspended early this month so the scarce resource could be reserved for people getting their second shots.

The unstable supply put a stop to the use of Pfizer’s vaccine across the country for people getting their first shots. The government is currently providing second doses of the American vaccine to seniors who received their first shots in April.

“Starting (May) 22, we will focus on carrying out the first Pfizer shots for three weeks. After that, the second jabs of Pfizer’s vaccine will be the focal point until late June,” the government’s COVID-19 response task force said in a statement.

The resumption of first shots from Pfizer will affect 2.04 million people. If the planned vaccinations are completed in the coming weeks, more than 80 percent of the target population -- senior citizens aged 75 and over -- will be vaccinated.

The supply imbalance has also affected first shots of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. While the vaccine is mostly being used for second jabs at the moment, the government aims to restart first inoculations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine May 27. People between the ages of 65 and 74 and people with severe chronic respiratory diseases are eligible for the vaccination.

A total of 3,733,796 people, about 7.3 percent of the population, have received their first jabs of COVID-19 vaccines so far, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The proportion of people who have gotten their second shots stands at 1.8 percent.

As the country’s inoculation drive has proceeded more slowly than expected, its impact seems to have made no difference in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The KDCA announced a total of 1,291 newly confirmed cases diagnosed Friday and Saturday, with the daily tally in the 600s both days. The country’s overall number of cases to date was 131,671 as of Sunday.

Payouts for side effects

Starting Monday, the government will compensate people who develop severe symptoms after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination even if they cannot prove a connection between the vaccine and the symptoms. These people can receive up to 10 million won ($8,853) each.

Previously, government compensation for vaccine side effects was limited to cases where cause and effect was considered to have been proven.

“(The subsidy support) is implemented to protect patients who show severe side effects after inoculation and lack evidence to prove the causality between the vaccine and the side effects,” KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a press briefing earlier last week. “It is to strengthen the country’s responsibility.”

The vaccine response task force explained that the support is for those cases where it is hard to determine a causal link, but one cannot say there is no connection due to lack of proof.

The revised payout scheme came amid a growing number of people who have shown severe side effects after vaccination. So far, only two cases out of 156 patients who experienced side effects post-jabs were proven to have a causal connection.

People eligible for the financial support are those who had been hospitalized in an intensive care unit or have gone through similar adverse effects after vaccination, but were excluded from the compensation list due to insufficient evidence to substantiate their claims of causality.

But no payment will be made for illnesses and injuries that “happened for reasons other than receiving the vaccine” or “clearly has no connection at all with inoculation,” the health authorities said. It also does not cover expenses for treating underlying diseases, or for nursing or funeral costs.

There are currently five people who meet the eased standards, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. The government plans to examine previous cases to see if any more are eligible for the financial support.

People who have experienced severe symptoms after vaccinations but whose cases were previously dismissed by damage investigation authorities can apply for the aid at their local public health centers.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (