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Report: North Korea, U.N. agencies move forward with COVID-19 vaccine plans

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Report: North Korea, U.N. agencies move forward with COVID-19 vaccine plans
International agencies confirmed they are talking  with the North Korean government about COVID-19 vaccine distribution, according to a recent press report. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- North Korea is expected to receive assistance from the United Nations Children's Fund for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, according to a recent press report.

UNICEF told Radio Free Asia's Korean service that the agency is supplying advice to Pyongyang. COVID-19 vaccines for North Korea have been delayed, despite an agreement with the World Health Organization.

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"UNICEF is providing technical support to the Ministry of Public Health to advise on cold chain and vaccine logistics," a UNICEF spokesperson said.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, co-leader of the COVAX Facility with the WHO, confirmed that progress is being made on North Korea vaccines.

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"Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and COVAX are continuing the dialogue with the Ministry of Public Health to operationalize available support," a spokesperson for the organization said, according to RFA.

North Korea agreed earlier this year to receive a donation of about 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but restrictions on movement in the country and lack of cooperation from the government have been cited as obstacles.

U.N. agencies may have requested North Korea allow in international relief workers to monitor vaccination sites and to help build a cold chain, or temperature-controlled supply chain, in the country. Pyongyang has banned all incoming foreign visitors and workers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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North Korea's cold chain capabilities have come under question. The country's infrastructure may not be sufficient to transport either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines across long distances, according to South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun on Wednesday.

Some experts say Pyongyang is well prepared, however.

Nagi Shafik, former project manager for the WHO's Pyongyang office and other analysts said in a commentary published to 38 North on Thursday that North Korea's cold chain infrastructure is "capable of supporting the country-wide deployment of vaccines that require standard refrigeration."

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"UNICEF, given its familiarity with North Korea's cold chain infrastructure, could quickly procure and install enough ultra-cold temperature freezers to store a limited quantity of vaccines," the analysts said.

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