I am pleased to meet you all. It has been exactly one year since Korea reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case. Our people have come together to overcome the virus and help make our country’s response a model for the world. With vaccines and treatments being developed one after another, the hope of prevailing over COVID-19 continues to grow and we can look forward to a quick return to our normal lives. Korea, too, will begin vaccinations in the coming month. I hope we will recover and make another leap forward together in the new year.
Today here at SK Bioscience, I would like to show those who have been waiting for COVID-19 vaccines how they are developed and produced. I also want to speak about vaccine distribution. SK Bioscience is now serving as a contract manufacturer for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and spearheading Korea’s vaccine development. On behalf of the people, I extend the deepest gratitude to those researchers, developers and production-line workers who have probably never been as busy as they were this past year. Now, all of you will become new heroes in the fight against COVID-19.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom and is now undergoing our Ministry of Food and Drug Safety’s final review process. Its rollout will be determined following a three-phase advisory procedure, with the top priority placed on safety. If approved, a sizable portion of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which will be supplied to the COVAX Facility for global distribution, will be produced in Korea.
The international community has very high expectations for Korea’s vaccine-related capabilities and potential contribution. The fact that global vaccine manufacturers are scrambling to consign production of their vaccines to Korean businesses proves that we have world class production capacity. Our bio-research personnel are also exceptional.
Recently, Novavax and SK Bioscience have initiated contract negotiations, paving the way for us to procure an additional 20 million doses in addition to the 56 million obtained so far. For its part, the Government plans to secure all of these additional supplies through advance purchases. This contract has particular significance as it includes not only vaccine production but also technology transfer. This will also play a significant role in guaranteeing uninterrupted and equitable distribution of the vaccines and advancing our vaccine development.
If COVID-19 is not eradicated over a short period of time, developing homegrown vaccines is of paramount importance for ensuring stable inoculation and vaccine sovereignty. In addition, this could streamline distribution and make the inoculation process safer and smoother. SK Bioscience is also doing all it can to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine. If it proceeds as planned, we will be able to use that vaccine for inoculations next year. SK Group established a vaccine manufacturing plant 20 years ago and has nurtured the requisite workforce. Such efforts laid the foundation that has enabled us to secure a safe supply of vaccines today and work on developing our own. I extend my special thanks to Chairman Chey Tae-won and SK Group.
Now, the Government must conduct vaccinations fairly and without any setbacks. We have secured various vaccines in quantities sufficient to inoculate everyone who needs it. Optimal measures will also be put in place for the transporting, storing and administering of vaccines based on their specific traits.
A pan-government taskforce has been launched to oversee a nationwide inoculation against COVID-19. Beginning with the vaccination of those who are prioritized next month, we intend to achieve herd immunity by November at the latest. In addition to readying trained inoculation professionals, the Government will prepare countermeasures against possible adverse reactions and a system to compensate for any damage.
We have the World Health Organization’s best rated vaccination system in place. Our integrated data processing system, which connects public medical institutions and also private hospitals, and the accumulated experience and capabilities of our healthcare professionals are world class. We will vaccinate the entire population quickly and safely with the public’s trust.
Everyone is undergoing undeniable hardships to endure these difficult times. Once we surmount the third wave of the pandemic – the last critical juncture – and vaccinations speed up, we will be able to quickly return to our daily routines and achieve economic recovery.
We expect to be able to utilize domestically developed treatments starting next month. If we can successfully develop a vaccine on our own, Korea will be able to leap forward as a biohealth industry leader, moving beyond overcoming COVID-19. The Government will continue to provide support until we succeed. Let us make this year the one when the Government and businesses, as one team, accomplish an inclusive recovery and make a leap forward.