Homegrown COVID-19 vaccine may be available early next year: minister

February 22, 2021

South Korea could produce locally developed vaccines against the novel coronavirus early next year, the ICT minister said Monday, as the country seeks to prepare for a drawn-out fight against the pandemic.

Minister of Science and ICT Choi Ki-young said the government will continue to support development of local vaccines against the virus even though the country has secured enough vaccines from foreign pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

The country plans to roll out its COVID-19 inoculation program with AstraZeneca’s vaccines Friday, while inoculation with Pfizer’s vaccines will start Saturday. South Korea has secured enough coronavirus vaccines to inoculate 79 million people, higher than its population of 51.6 million.

Minister of Science and ICT Choi Ki-young speaks during a briefing at the ministry's office in Sejong, 120 kilometers south of Seoul in this photo provided by the ministry on Feb. 22, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Minister of Science and ICT Choi Ki-young speaks during a briefing at the ministry’s office in Sejong, 120 kilometers south of Seoul in this photo provided by the ministry on Feb. 22, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

“We don’t know how long the vaccines will stay effective, and there could be many strains of the virus,” Choi said in a briefing. “We can’t simply rely on foreign vaccines.”

“If we continue to support development of local vaccines, we will be able to respond faster to new diseases or virus strains.”

Last week, the government said it would inject 131.4 billion won (US$118.4 million) this year to help local pharmaceutical companies conduct clinical trials on COVID-19 vaccines and treatment.

The minister said local pharmaceutical companies are currently developing synthetic antigen vaccines, DNA vaccines and a viral vector vaccine against the virus and that phase 3 clinical trials of a homegrown vaccine could take place at the end of this year if development goes as planned.

Choi, however, warned that there are numerous uncertainties as problems could arise in clinical trials.

He said it would be difficult to conduct phase 3 trials in South Korea as it would require a lot of COVID-19 patients and there could be cost-related challenges.

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