It's been 6 days since vaccinations finally began here in South Korea, with medical workers and physically vulnerable people including the elderly at the front of the queue.
But much like other countries around the world, there has been lingering concern over whether the jabs are being delivered quickly enough and even if the rollout is on schedule, whether the doses will work against new variants of the virus.
To address these questions today, I'm joined by Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute based in Seoul.
1. As you mentioned in your recent Nature article, now that many countries have started administering the vaccine, there are new questions regarding the optimization of vaccination regimens, booster doses, vaccine effectiveness, and safety, but let's start here in South Korea.
The country is still seeing 300 to 400 new cases of COVID every day, and there are predictions that a 4th wave may be on the way. With the government having cut its vaccination target from over 1.3 million to 750,000. Is the vaccine roll-out going fast enough when most of the population still has months until they can be vaccinated?
2. South Korea claims it doesn't have the new variants of COVID-19 circulating in the country but how long can the country fend off the three new major variants?
3. What causes or triggers mutations to turn into significantly more infectious variants? Could we see strong variants emerging from each country?
4. There's a great amount of concern over whether these vaccines work against new variants. Is there evidence that the current vaccines being administered work just as well against the new types of COVID-19 that we're seeing?
5. Some scientists say the new variants require a higher level of herd immunity than the 70 percent target most countries are aiming for. Is that true?
6. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine doesn't have the same stringent cold-chain requirements as the ones developed by Moderna and Pfizer, and of course, it only requires a single jab. But it's shown to be less effective against milder infections and people seem to think it's an inferior product. How do you think health authorities should address this kind of hesitancy?
7. In the U.S., there are also concerns that disparities will worsen as mRNA vaccines may primarily be allocated to richer, metropolitan areas while 'inferior' ones like Johnson & Johnson's will be distributed in areas without as much infrastructure or high quality medical services. Is this a genuine concern authorities should consider?
8. You signed a deal with GI-Cell in late January to work on a new vaccine together. What kind of innovations are you hoping to see and how will you make vaccines more available for people in developing countries at the back of the queue?
9. You signed an MOU with Korea Ginseng Corporation to develop immunity boosters needed for vaccine research by using red ginseng produced in South Korea. How will this work?
10. Using artificial intelligence and systems modeling, could developing a universal coronavirus vaccine be scientifically feasible one day?
This is where we'll wrap up today. That was Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute based in Seoul. Thank you for your time.