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North Korea rejected international monitors for COVID-19 vaccines, report says

North Korea closed its border at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and is keeping out foreign health workers, according to a Japanese press report. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
North Korea closed its border at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and is keeping out foreign health workers, according to a Japanese press report. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

May 20 (UPI) -- North Korea requested deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization's COVAX Facility, but has refused to allow international health workers to monitor distribution, according to a Japanese press report.

Kyodo News reported Wednesday from Beijing that multiple diplomatic sources confirmed the exchange between North Korea and WHO officials.

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The United Nations agency wants to ensure that vaccinations are being properly administered in the isolated country but North Korea has not agreed to the demands, the report said.

Kyodo's sources said North Korea "seems to be biding time" for COVAX to relent and allow the vaccines to be distributed in the country without monitors.

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According to COVAX, North Korea is to receive 1,704,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India would cover less than 1 million people. Doses to be delivered to North Korea also have been adjusted down from an original 1,992,000 amid a surge of infections in India.

North Korea is one of 92 low-income nations who are on COVAX's list of recipients, but Pyongyang reportedly has not submitted its plans for distribution, a WHO requirement, South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported Thursday.

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The WHO does not have direct access to the North Korean population, but continues to report the data they receive from the regime.

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The U.N. agency stated in its Southeast Asia Region Weekly Situation Report for Week 18 that North Korea reported "no cases."

No new cases of COVID-19 have been reported as of May 6. Since the start of the pandemic, 53,166 samples have been collected from 26,720 people who were tested for COVID-19, the WHO said.

"These include 734 persons who were tested during the period of April 26 to May 6," the report said.

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Lack of adequate facilities may also be a factor in the delay.

Radio Free Asia's Korean service recently reported power outages in the North could be posing vaccine storage problems. The AstraZeneca vaccine requires refrigeration.

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