South Korea to make COVID-19 vaccines free to all citizens

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Jan. 11 (UPI) — President Moon Jae-in pledged to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to all South Korean citizens free of charge beginning in February, during a New Year’s speech when he also called on Kim Jong Un to return to talks.

Moon, whose approval rating has slid to 35.5% according to the most recent Realmeter survey, said Monday the vaccines from Britain and the United States are to be available next month and inoculations to begin “in order of priority,” local television network MBC reported.

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South Korea has signed pre-purchase agreements with nearly all leading vaccine suppliers, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer and Janssen, owned by Johnson & Johnson. Additional vaccines will be procured from the COVAX facility, managed by the World Health Organization.

Seoul has agreed to import enough vaccines to inoculate 56 million people. Vaccine recipients will have no choice in the brand of vaccine administered, however, Jung Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday, according to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Moon’s promise to deliver free vaccines to all citizens was part of a speech that pledged economic relief for people most hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. He also apologized for his administration’s real estate policy.

In 2020, Seoul attempted to crack down on soaring home prices with as many as 20 measures that included higher capital gains taxes. The policies did nothing to curb rising prices, however.

“I extend my most heartfelt apology to citizens who are in despair by the challenges of housing,” Moon said. “The government will swiftly put forward a variety of housing supply plans that can soon become effective.”

Moon also proposed inter-Korean cooperation on anti-epidemic measures, and said he hoped a joint coronavirus response would “open the sluice gates,” or sliding gates of “mutual prosperity and peace.”

“My will to meet anytime, anywhere, and to communicate virtually remains unchanged,” Moon said, referring to his readiness to meet with the North Korean leader.

Last week Moon promised to make progress on North Korea “until the end,” and confirmed his willingness to realize the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, permanent peace, and the development of inter-Korean relations.”

North Korea has not responded to the South’s offer of talks.