On Monday, President Moon Jae-in says South Korea is eyeing the possible role of being a production hub for COVID-19 vaccines, promising to boost local production, as well as securing more licensing deals with global vaccine manufacturers.
“Our nation, boasting the world’s second-largest production capacity of biomedicines, is getting renewed attention as a potential global hub for vaccine production,” Moon said in an urgent COVID-19 response meeting with related government offices.
“Three vaccines are already being produced or plan to be produced here, with talks ongoing for more deals. If South Korea becomes the global production hub, that would greatly help boost vaccine supplies both at home and abroad.”
Currently, UK’s AstraZeneca and US’ Novavax vaccines are produced by SK Bioscience and Russia’s Sputnik V shots will be manufactured by Huons Global, however, the status is still pending approval.
AstraZeneca and Sputnik vaccines are contract-manufactured while the new Novavax shots will be produced under a license-in deal with the US drugmaker. This includes the transfer of technology that allows more efficiency and flexibility in handling production targets.
Just last week, President Moon invited Novavax CEO Stanley Erck to Cheong Wa Dae to discuss the extension of the one-year licensing contract for another year. As soon as the new vaccine gets approval, the Korean manufacturer will start production, aiming to supply the first batch of 20 million vaccine doses by the third quarter.
South Korea’s government is pursuing similar licensing deals with several vaccine manufacturers, the majority is based in the US. There is growing speculation that the country’s possible role of being a vaccine production hub will be discussed at Moon’s upcoming summit with US President Joe Biden in Washington on May 21. Other issues such as North Korea and climate change could also be addressed.
The partnership is expected to be advantageous for both countries. South Korea is assured a stable supply of its vaccine doses, as well as more business opportunities for local manufacturers, while the US, which is under pressure to release more shots, can support its vaccine manufacturers to hasten production.
Experts say more details, including regulatory hurdles and budget plans for expanding production facilities and securing vaccine materials, should be discussed to realize the government’s vision for an Asian vaccine hub.
Moon also presses government offices to ramp up vaccinations and to disseminate more information to lessen the citizen’s concerns over the news of possible vaccine shortage.
So far, South Korea has secured a total of 192 million vaccine doses for 90 million people, nearly double the country’s population. As of Sunday, 3.39 million people (6.6 percent) have been inoculated with their first shots.
The government’s goal is to achieve heed immunity by vaccinating 70 percent of the population by November.