South Korea plans to ship almost 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to Vietnam and Thailand this week, the foreign ministry announced Tuesday, as the Southeast Asian nations struggle to contain the spread of the virus.
The donation comes as South Korea’s vaccination program has accelerated rapidly, with 70 percent of the population expected to be inoculated 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 the most severe restrictions by next month. Thailand has fully vaccinated 33 percent of its population and Vietnam about 17 percent.
About 1.1 million doses will go to Vietnam and 470,000 to Thailand, South Korea’s government said.
South Korea was among the last of the world’s wealthiest nations to start a vaccination program, leading to frustration among citizens who had already spent a year living under restrictions to control the spread of the virus. Eight months later, the country has inoculated more people per capita than the United States, which has secured the largest supply of vaccines in the world.
The U.S. government invested about $1.2 billion in the development of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, hoping that it would be one of many in an arsenal. Instead, federal officials have yet to approve the use of the shot and million of doses are sitting unused, likely destined to be exported. President Biden promised 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 production mishaps, questions about its efficacy and reports of very rare blood clots. Amid the concerns, South Korea temporarily suspended use of the vaccine in April, but cleared it for use again several days later.