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Report: North Korea COVID-19 vaccine plans being watched closely

Report: North Korea COVID-19 vaccine plans being watched closely
North Korea is on a list of low-income countries that receive subsidized COVID-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization's COVAX Facility. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- North Korea is preparing to receive shipments of COVID-19 vaccines and Seoul is monitoring the situation, according to a South Korean press report.

News 1 reported Monday an official with South Korea's unification ministry said the government is aware of North Korean plans to bring in subsidized vaccines from the World Health Organization's COVAX Facility, and that Seoul is watching closely while waiting for confirmation from COVAX.

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In early February, a list from the international vaccine provider revealed North Korea is to receive 1,992,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India are enough to cover 996,000 people.

UNICEF, the United Nations agency in charge of North Korea vaccine logistics, said it is working with the WHO on the delivery. South Korean news services reported earlier in the month that the North is expected to receive about 35% to 40% of the shipments in the first quarter of this year, and the remainder in the second quarter.

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Shima Islam, UNICEF Asia-Pacific spokeswoman, said the U.N. agencies are coordinating with North Korea's health ministry to provide guidelines, education and distribution monitoring support to the Kim Jong Un regime, Radio Free Asia reported Saturday.

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North Korea also is developing a vaccination plan, Islam had said.

Pyongyang has reported zero cases of the novel coronavirus and has told the WHO it has tested 13,257 people since the start of the pandemic. The WHO does not have direct access to the North Korean population.

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North Korea's population of 25 million people cannot all be vaccinated under the current plan.

Cho Han-bum, a South Korean analyst at Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, said Monday the vaccines are likely to be allocated to North Korea's ruling elites, with some of the vaccines going to the rest of the population "for symbolic purposes," according to News 1.

Hong Min, a research fellow at KINU, said North Korea is likely to focus first on health workers and the elderly, according to the report.

RELATED Seoul to procure enough COVID-19 vaccines for North, South Korea

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