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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 24)

06:56 February 24, 2021

Don't politicize vaccinations
Politicians should stop fueling distrust in jabs

Public trust in COVID-19 vaccines holds the key to successful inoculations. Yet it is disappointing to see politicians fuel distrust in the coronavirus jabs before the country even begins its first vaccinations Friday. They should stop playing political football with the vaccines.

On Friday, former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) touched off a wasteful debate by calling President Moon Jae-in to be the first Korean to be vaccinated. He said on Facebook that the government could dispel public distrust in the AstraZeneca vaccine if Moon was the first recipient of the jab.

Two days later, Rep. Jung Chung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lambasted Yoo for making such an inappropriate remark. He asked a question, "Should the head of state be the target of an experiment (of the AstraZeneca vaccine)?" This was followed by members of the rival parties exchanging barbs over the issue.

On Monday, PPP interim leader Kim Chong-in also demanded that Moon be given the first vaccine shot, saying that those in power should decide for themselves on who should be the first recipient to ease the anxiety of the people. PPP floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young also made a similar demand, saying that many questions are being raised on the safety of the vaccine. PPP lawmaker Ha Tae-keung even said a vaccine that the President wouldn't get should also not be given to the people.

Opposition politicians should realize that their demands are irrational. The World Health Organization (WHO) and health authorities in many countries have already approved the emergency use of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and other pharmaceutical firms, recognizing their safety and efficacy. Of course, their vaccines are not totally without any problems. In the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is a lack of clinical trial data proving its efficacy for people aged 65 or older, and therefore France, Germany and some other European countries have decided not to give the vaccine to the elderly.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has followed suit, saying that the inoculation of the elderly using the vaccine produced by the British-Swedish drug maker should be delayed until the firm submits further data on the older age group. About 289,000 patients and workers aged under 65 at geriatric hospitals and nursing homes will be given the AstraZeneca vaccine from Feb. 26.

President Moon cannot be the first person to receive the vaccine because he is 68. If he were given the first shot, he may face a controversy over "vaccine privilege." It is also worth noting that Moon said Jan. 18 that he has no reason to shy away from being inoculated first if public distrust in the vaccine runs deep.

In this context, we cannot help but question the real intention of the opposition politicians' demands. They are apparently seeking to politicize vaccinations for partisan gain. They seem to be trying to stoke public anxieties about inoculations without any scientific evidence. Rather they should cooperate in the vaccine program to inoculate 70 percent of the population by September and thus achieve herd immunity by November.
(END)

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