Kim orders tougher virus steps after North Korea shuns vaccines
(Sourced from PTI)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered officials to wage a tougher epidemic prevention campaign after he turned down some foreign COVID-19 vaccines offered via the UN-backed immunization program. Kim on Thursday said officials must bear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even for a moment, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Notably, Kim previously called for North Koreans to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating the nation's borders would stay closed despite worsening economic and food conditions. Since the start of the pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks, though its claim to be entirely virus-free is widely doubted.
On Tuesday, UNICEF, which delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX program, said North Korea proposed its allotment of three million Sinovac shots be sent to severely affected countries. North Korea was also slated to receive AstraZeneca shots through COVAX, but their delivery has been delayed. According to UNICEF, North Korea's health ministry said it would continue to communicate with COVAX over future vaccines.
Some experts believe North Korea may want other vaccines while questioning Sinovac's effectiveness and the rare blood clots seen in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The previously allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses would be enough to vaccinate 950,000 people, only about 7.3% of North Korea's 26 million people, meaning North Korea would still need much more quantities of vaccine to inoculate its population.
Leif-Eric Easley, Professor at Seoul's Ewha Woman's University, said, "Pyongyang appears to have issues with COVAX involving legal distribution reporting requirements. So it might procure vaccines from China to deliver to border regions and soldiers while allocating COVAX shots to less sensitive populations."
He said, "The Kim regime likely wants the safest and effective vaccine for the elite, but administering Pfizer would require upgraded cold chain capability in Pyongyang and at least discreet discussions with the United States of America." "The Johnson & Johnson option could also be useful to North Korea given that vaccine's portability and one-shot regimen," he added.
In a recent United Nations report on the North's human rights situation, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked North Korea to take all necessary measures, including through international cooperation and assistance, to provide access to COVID-19 vaccine for all persons, without discrimination.