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Vaccine swap to aid South Korean jab programme

(Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
(Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The Government has announced plans for a “vaccine swap” with South Korea.

The UK will ship more than a million doses of its stockpile of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to South Korea in coming weeks as the country aims to fully vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of October.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the first batch will arrive in South Korea “in coming weeks”.

By the end of 2021, South Korea will return the same volume of doses to the UK.

British officials previously announced a similar vaccine swap deal with Australia.

The doses are “not immediately required” in the UK, and will not affect the vaccine rollout or the programme for booster jabs, DHSC said.

It added that the doses being swapped with South Korea are not part of the commitment to send 100 million vaccines overseas.

To date, the UK has donated 10.3 million Covid-19 vaccines to other nations – 6.2 million through the vaccine-sharing facility Covax, and the rest donated bilaterally to countries in need, DHSC said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “By working closely with our friends in South Korea, this vaccine swap will maximise their rollout speed without having an impact on the UK’s vaccine programme.

“Separately, we continue to deliver on our commitment to donate 100 million doses to nations around the world by June 2022 to ensure as many people across the world are as safe from Covid-19 as possible.”

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid (Victoria Jones/PA)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The UK is playing a leading role in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, donating 100 million vaccine doses across the world, and have committed £548 million to Covax.

“The Republic of Korea is a strategic partner for the UK and the sharing of one million vaccines benefits both countries as we help build resistance against Covid-19 and save lives.”

The UK has already begun rolling out booster jabs to over-50s, some people at high risk of illness and health and social care workers.

More than 30 million will be offered a single booster, six months after they received their second jab.

The programme for offering vaccines to children aged 12 and over started this week.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a moratorium on booster doses until the end of the year so vaccines can be shipped to parts of the world where many at-risk people remain unvaccinated.

It said that while third doses may be necessary for immunocompromised people, widespread booster jabs could be put to better use elsewhere.

The global health body has recently appointed former prime minister Gordon Brown an ambassador for global health financing.

He has been campaigning in recent months for wealthy nations and the private sector to ensure an equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

The WHO has set a target for every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population by the end of the year, but it said just two countries in Africa have reached the target.

Just 2% of 5.7 billion doses administered globally have been in Africa.

Meanwhile Oxfam has warned that Yemen “can’t cope” in the face of a third wave of the virus as 99% of the population remains unvaccinated.

On Tuesday bishops of the Church of England urged the world’s wealthiest nations to stop stockpiling vaccines.