North Korean authorities are scheduled to receive enough COVID-19 vaccine for 990,000 people from the COVAX Facility, an international initiative for equitable access to vaccines. Meanwhile, the authorities are reportedly thinking over who will receive the vaccinations first.

According to a high-ranking Daily NK source on Sunday, the authorities are discussing a plan to first inoculate the country’s “core class.” This class of people includes veterans of the Korean War, the families of late revolutionaries and leading cadres at government organs and enterprises. North Korean authorities plan to begin inoculations as soon as the vaccines arrive.

By providing priority access to vaccines to key groups highly loyal to the regime, the plan suggests the authorities intend to make political use of the vaccination process, too.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVAX’s vaccine distribution plan in a joint press conference with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance on Feb. 3.

According to COVAX’s vaccine distribution report, North Korea will receive 1,992,000 doses of AstraZeneca produced by the Serum Institute of India, enough for 990,000 people.

North Korea will receive AstraZeneca, the first vaccine secured by the South Korean government. Daily NK had previously reported that North Korean authorities are prioritizing vaccines selected by South Korea.

In fact, the high-ranking source said North Korean authorities told the WHO that they hope to receive AstraZeneca vaccine, a decision influenced by its “relative ease of storage and distribution” and because it was “the vaccine given priority adoption by South Korea.”

covid quarantine
Disease control officials testing drivers for COVID-19 symptoms in Pyongyang’s Manggyongdae District. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

The South Korean government concluded a contract to purchase COVID-19 vaccines from British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in late November.

However, South Korea is using AstraZeneca manufactured locally by SK Bioscience, while North Korea will receive AstraZeneca made in India.

Meanwhile, controversy continues over the AstraZeneca vaccine, with research results emerging that the drug is only 10% effective against the South African variant of the COVID-19 virus. In particular, there is ongoing debate over whether it is safe to administer AstraZeneca to individuals older than 65.

Because of this, some among North Korea’s leadership are calling for trials to demonstrate the vaccine’s efficacy and potential side effects.

For this reason, the authorities reportedly debated a plan to test the vaccine by first administering it to people who have been released from COVID-19 quarantine facilities after their symptoms improved.

Though North Korean authorities claim there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, the authorities appear to believe that people who improved after showing signs of COVID-19 carry coronavirus antibodies. 

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly plans to ask the WHO to continuously provide vaccines to make up for shortfalls.

“The situation here [in North Korea] is very chaotic due to the coronavirus,” said the source. “Because securing large amounts of the vaccine is urgent, [the authorities] plan to continuously ask international organizations to make up shortfalls so they can secure a lot of vaccine in a short period of time.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.