South Korea plans to ship nearly 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to Vietnam and Thailand this week, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, as Southeast Asian countries struggle to contain the spread of the virus.
The donation comes as South Korea’s vaccination program has rapidly accelerated, with 70 percent of the population expected to be vaccinated by the end of the month.
About 62 percent of South Korea’s total population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the nation is expected to ease its strictest restrictions by next month. Thailand has fully vaccinated 33 percent of the population and Vietnam about 17 percent.
About 1.1 million doses will go to Vietnam and 470,000 to Thailand, the government of South Korea said.
South Korea was one of the last of the world’s richest countries to initiate a vaccination program, leading to frustration among citizens who had been living under restrictions for a year to control the spread of the virus. Eight months later, the country has vaccinated more people per capita than the United States, which has secured the largest stock of vaccines in the world.
The US government has invested about $1.2 billion in developing AstraZeneca’s vaccine, hoping it would be one of many in an arsenal. Instead, federal officials have yet to approve the injection’s use, and millions of doses are unused, likely destined for export. President Biden pledged to donate up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is cheaper and easier to store than the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but it has been dogged by manufacturing errors, questions about efficacy and reports of very rare blood clots. Amid concerns, South Korea temporarily suspended use of the vaccine in April, but released it back to use a few days later.