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South Korea's Moon Jae-in: 'Vaccine cooperation' on the agenda for Biden summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that he would discuss cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines with U.S. President Joe Biden at their upcoming summit this week. Photo by Yonhap
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that he would discuss cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines with U.S. President Joe Biden at their upcoming summit this week. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, May 17 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday he will use his trip this week to Washington as an opportunity to shore up the country's vaccine supplies as it seeks to ramp up an inoculation rollout that has lagged behind other developed nations.

"We will take this visit to the United States as an opportunity to strengthen vaccine cooperation and become a global hub for vaccine production," Moon said at a weekly meeting with senior aides.

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The South Korean president is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday, marking the first face-to-face summit between the two leaders.

South Korea has secured commitments for enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate nearly twice its population, but it has faced delays in receiving shipments, with most vaccines scheduled for delivery in the latter half of the year.

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The country has fully vaccinated 940,345 people, or 1.8% of the population, according to data released Monday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Some 3.7 million people, or 7.3%, have received their first shot.

The government is aiming to vaccinate 13 million people by June and is targeting herd immunity by November.

South Korean officials have publicly raised the idea of a "vaccine swap" with the United States, in which Washington would supply doses now that Seoul would later return.

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Some form of early vaccine procurement is expected to be a key discussion point for the upcoming summit, alongside issues such as the Biden administration's new North Korea policy.

South Korea is also looking to become a global production center for vaccines. Last week, Moon's chief of staff Lee Ho-seung said that a vaccine partnership with Washington could combine the United States' technologies and vaccine supplies with South Korea's biological manufacturing capability.

Local firm SK Bioscience has been manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for the domestic market and the global vaccine sharing facility COVAX. It has also signed a contract to develop and produce the vaccine by U.S. biotech company Novavax, which is still awaiting approval in South Korea.

On Monday, SK Bioscience announced it has received good manufacturing practice certification approval by the European Medicines Agency, opening the door for exports to the European Union.

The company is also seeking certification by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

"With the pandemic, the global vaccine demand is expected to increase explosively, and SK Bioscience is at the center of it," CEO Ahn Jae-yong said in a statement. "Based on our globally recognized technologies, we will accelerate our business expansion."

President Moon said Monday that South Korean officials are working to "carry out vaccination without disruption" and to accelerate the process of recovery against the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the economy has made a "strong rebound" and is looking to achieve a growth rate of at least 4% in 2021.

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