By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea expects its first batch of coronavirus vaccines from global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX within weeks and has begun setting up vaccination centres, an interior ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
The delivery is likely to hasten the vaccination campaign, due to begin in late February at the earliest, as South Korea has yet to finalise priority groups and detailed inoculation plans.
A deputy spokesman for the interior ministry, Park Jong-hyun, told Reuters, "100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines for 50,000 people may arrive before the Lunar New Year holiday through the COVAX facility."
The holiday begins on February 11 this year.
The ministry has designated about 250 spacious indoor gyms and theatres nationwide to vaccinate people with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require cold chain storage, Park said.
Vaccinations will begin as soon as possible, but the exact date has yet to be decided, he said.
South Korea has yet to approve use of the Pfizer vaccine, but the World Health Organization, which is leading the COVAX scheme, authorized the shot at the end of December.
South Korea has said it aims to ensure herd immunity to the virus through mass vaccinations by November, but some medical experts have cast doubt on the plan, citing slow progress in training staff for storage, distribution and inoculation.
For inoculations using vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s which do not require ultra cold storage, authorities will designate 10,000 hospitals and clinics nationwide, Park said.
The country has secured 106 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, more than enough for its 52 million residents, from COVAX, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
It is also in talks to buy 40 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Novavax.
South Korea reported 401 new infections by Wednesday, taking its tally to 73,918 cases, with 1,316 deaths.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)