A citizen gets a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot at a hospital in Yangsan, some 420 kilometers south of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea is accelerating its COVID-19 vaccination campaign one week after its first vaccine rollout, and more people are expected to receive their first shots despite controversies over recent reports of deaths.
On Friday, the country began its long-awaited inoculation program, with health care workers and patients aged under 65 at long-term care facilities, as well as front-line medical workers, among the first in line to receive their first shots.
An accumulated 154,421 people were administered with their first shots as of midnight, which accounts for 0.3 percent of the country's 52 million population, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Of the total, 151,679 health care workers and patients at long-term care facilities received the first jabs of the two-dose vaccine regimen developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University, the KDCA said
The KDCA said 47.71 percent of inoculation priority groups for AstraZeneca's vaccine have been inoculated, which is far faster than the rollout plan announced earlier.
Meanwhile, 4.87 percent of 56,261 people scheduled to receive US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc.'s two-dose vaccine regimen were inoculated. The group includes doctors, nurses and other health professionals treating COVID-19 patients in the greater Seoul area.
The vaccination campaign is expected to further gather pace as more medical workers and those at nursing homes get the vaccine shots down the road.
The country earlier said that it aims to achieve herd immunity by November after inoculating more than 70 percent of the country's population.
The KDCA said more than 2.1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines will be supplied to the country by May under the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project.
Health authorities are trying to stave off simmering vaccine safety concerns as two people died after receiving their first jabs. Investigations are under way after the two recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccines died following inoculation against the COVID-19 virus.
KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a press briefing on Thursday that epidemiological surveys are under way to confirm any links with the inoculations but they have not yet confirmed any causal relationship.
The KDCA said the two people had been in long-term care facilities with pre-existing conditions such as heart diseases and diabetes.
Separately, the country reported three suspected cases of anaphylactoid reaction, which has similar symptoms to anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction after immunization. But health authorities said they have yet to find a causal relationship between the vaccinations and such adverse events.
Currently, AstraZeneca vaccine's use for people aged 65 and older is still under review, pending further study results, amid a continuing controversy over the vaccine's efficacy for seniors.
Earlier, the government said it is reviewing the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 65 and over after new research results were disclosed overseas.
On Thursday, the country reported 424 more COVID-19 cases, staying in the 400s for the second consecutive day, the KDCA said. The total caseload increased to 91,240. (Yonhap)