A medical worker prepares to administer a shot at a public COVID-19 vaccination center. (Yonhap)
In South Korea, real-time information on leftover COVID-19 vaccines is available to everyone on the country’s No. 1 portal Naver and No. 1 messenger app KakaoTalk.
Thanks to the easy access and people’s zeal to get vaccinated early, the no-show vaccine slots have become nearly impossible to grab, many Koreans complain.
“I was able to find a local hospital in Suwon with six does of AstraZeneca this morning on the reservation system on KakaoTalk. I hesitated for about one second, thinking that Suwon may be a bit far to visit from where I live,” a 33-year-old Seoul resident told The Korea Herald.
But there was no time for hesitation, because “those leftover vaccines were gone in a mere second.”
On social media and in online communities, it is easy to find people sharing similar stories. Leftover vaccines are booked in the blink of an eye, they say.
Some who have succeeded in winning vaccine slots share tips -- such as constantly clicking the refresh button on the map-based reservation system until a hospital with leftover vaccines pops up. If you click after receiving the message informing the availability of leftover doses, it is too late, they advise.
As of Tuesday, the combined number of people who were able to get leftover vaccines through the real-time booking system on Naver and KakaoTalk had reached 131,993. The number of people who had received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to date was 90,576, while the figure for the Janssen vaccine stood at 41,417. The booking system officially launched June 9.
The reservation system allows users to check the availability of shots via a map and receive real-time notification alerts for no-show slots. Users can browse the Naver or Kakao Map to find a clinic with leftover doses, or they can register up to five hospitals in advance to receive alerts via their cell phones.
Currently, South Korea is providing the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 60-64 and select groups of people eligible for the Johnson & Johnson doses provided by the US. Booking leftover doses is open to everyone aged 30 or older, as the government bans the use of the vaccines for younger age groups for safety reasons.
Medical workers from local hospitals have said there are only a handful of leftover vaccines available these days. A nurse at a hospital in Yongsan-gu, central Seoul, said the hospital usually administers COVID-19 vaccines to around 60-70 people on a daily basis, but just one or two doses are left over if someone cancels an appointment or is advised not to get a jab due to a health condition.
“When the hospital confirms it will have leftover vaccines during the day (and how many they will be), staff update the vaccine reservation system. But it usually takes less than a second for the leftover vaccines to get booked,” the nurse said.
Leftover COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be hard to come by at least through the end of June due to limited supplies.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s announcement on Tuesday, the number of vaccinated people in Korea has surpassed 13 million. But the pace of the country’s inoculation drive is expected to slow down in the coming weeks as only a limited amount of vaccines will be distributed, it added.
More vaccines become available for people aged between 18 and 59 during the second half of this year, after people who are at substantially higher risk of exposure. In July, the government plans to vaccinate teachers at schools and kindergartens as well as senior high school students and people in their 50s.
The KDCA on Wednesday granted final approval for GC Pharma to distribute 55,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be administered to local medical workers under the age of 30 starting this week.
The KDCA will unveil a more detailed inoculation plan for July on Thursday.
According to the KDCA, the government will also have the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at local hospitals during the second quarter. At the moment, only the AstraZeneca and Jassen vaccines are available at private hospitals.
By Shim Woo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)