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South Korea to receive 700,000 Pfizer doses from Israel in vaccine swap

South Korea and Israel agreed on Tuesday to a swap deal that will provide 700,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to the Asian country as it battles a surge in cases. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
South Korea and Israel agreed on Tuesday to a swap deal that will provide 700,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to the Asian country as it battles a surge in cases. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, July 6 (UPI) -- South Korea will receive 700,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Israel in a swap arrangement that health authorities hope will help speed up the inoculation rate in the Asian country as it faces a surge in cases, officials from both governments announced on Tuesday.

"We have made a win-win deal," Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. "South Korea will receive vaccines from our existing stocks and we will receive vaccines from their future shipment. Thus we are plugging the holes and we will ensure that the State of Israel has a proper stock of vaccines."

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South Korea is expecting to receive the shipment of 700,000 doses on Wednesday morning, Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said in a press briefing.

Jeong said that the vaccines would undergo a quality check by South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and then would begin a rollout on July 13. The country is already expecting to receive 10 million doses from a range of suppliers this month including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

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"The 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be used together with the 10 million doses that will be supplied during the month of July so we can expedite the speed of the vaccination rollout here in South Korea," Jeong said.

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South Korea is aiming to return the same number of vaccines to Israel in September and October, Jeong said.

So far, South Korea has inoculated 30% of its 52 million people with at least a first dose, while 10.5% have received both doses. However, the country has been facing a tightening of supplies amid an uptick in cases over the past week, primarily concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area.

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The initial rollout of the Pfizer vaccines will be targeted to Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi Province, Jeong said.

"We have the urgency to deal with the rising number of infections," she said.

The Pfizer doses received in the swap deal will be used to inoculate those in close contact with the public, including street cleaners, retail workers and delivery people, Jeong said.

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The government had already announced plans to begin vaccinating elementary, kindergarten and pre-school teachers as well as people aged above 50 this month. South Korea is aiming for a 70% inoculation rate by November, which it has said would be enough for herd immunity.

Israel is one of the most-vaccinated countries in the world, with over 57% of its population fully inoculated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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Tuesday's deal comes after the Palestinian Authority backed out of a similar swap arrangement for 1 million doses with Israel, saying the vaccines were too close to their expiration date.

The KDCA's Jeong said that there are no concerns about the quality of the vaccines being received.

"These are the same doses being used in Israel," she said, adding that South Korea has the cold-chain storage and distribution infrastructure to use the shots in a timely fashion.

Seoul has secured commitments for enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate nearly twice its population and Jeong said that if South Korea has excess supplies of vaccine later in the year, it would share doses with other countries.

South Korea saw its highest daily case rate in nearly six months last week as it deals with cluster infections and the highly contagious Delta variant. On Tuesday, the KDCA reported 746 new infections, raising the country's total caseload to 161,451. Four new deaths brought the overall toll to 2,032.

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