COVAX Slashes Vaccine Distribution to North Korea After Deliveries Not Accepted

By Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly
Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.
February 12, 2022 Updated: February 13, 2022

A global COVID-19 vaccine sharing platform has lowered the number of doses allocated to North Korea, as the country refused to make any delivery arrangements for the U.N.-backed immunization program.

The number of vaccine doses allocated by COVAX for North Korea stands at 1.54 million doses, down from 8.11 million doses allocated last year, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) website.

A spokesperson at Gavi, a global vaccine alliance that co-leads the COVAX facility, says that the initial number of allotted doses to North Korea is irrelevant now that COVAX is focusing more on “needs-based” vaccine distributions.

“Vaccines were allocated to [North Korea] on technical considerations to enable the country to catch up with international immunization targets in 2022 in case the government decides to introduce COVID-19 immunizations as part of the national pandemic response,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson reaffirmed COVAX’s commitment to engage in dialogue with North Korea “to operationalize the COVID-19 immunization program.”

The nuclear-armed nation turned down an offer of 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine last year and rejected the planned shipments of AstraZeneca’s vaccine by the COVAX facility last July.

A South Korean think-tank affiliated with Seoul’s spy agency said that North Korea is wary of Chinese-made vaccines due to concerns about their efficacy, but the regime expressed interest in Russian-made vaccines.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last July that Russia has “on many occasions” offered to deliver vaccines and medical equipment to North Korea.

“We said on many occasions that we are ready to render the required assistance if necessary. Certainly, this applies to vaccines and medical equipment, should the need arise,” Lavrov said, Russian news agency Tass reported.

North Korea has closed its borders and imposed severe travel bans even as the regime hasn’t confirmed any COVID-19 cases, a record widely doubted by the international community.

State media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported last week that the North Korean parliament has approved plans to increase the budget for emergency epidemic prevention by 33.3 percent from last year.

Kim Tok Hun, North Korea’s premier—who is in charge of the economy—said at the meeting that emergency epidemic prevention would be given top priority and “the epidemic prevention walls will be further intensified.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously ordered officials to strengthen military capacities and develop “high-tech weapons” while prioritizing anti-pandemic emergency campaigns, emphasizing that incompetence and loopholes wouldn’t be tolerated.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.