SEOUL, South Korea — Health officials in South Korea on Wednesday approved the country’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 years or older, adding another public health tool in the fight against a prolonged pandemic.
In clinical trials involving some 4,000 participants in South Korea and five other countries, SK Bioscience’s two-dose SKYCovione vaccine appeared to be more effective than the broadly used AstraZeneca shots in building immunity against infections, officials at South Korea’s Food and Drug Safety Ministry said.
It isn’t immediately clear how officials will administer the newly developed vaccine or how big of a role the shots will have in the next phase of the pandemic. They were made for the original variant of coronavirus and not for the transmissible omicron strain that caused havoc earlier this year. U.S. vaccine giants Pfizer and Moderna have been speeding up their development of booster shots targeting omicron and experts say it’s possible the virus could evolve again in the coming months.
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South Korea’s mass immunization campaign has been mainly dependent on Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA shots. Officials say that protein vaccines such as SKYCovione are very similar to the shots given for the common flu or hepatitis B over years and could be appealing to those who don’t want to take newer vaccines.
“The approval (of SKYCovione) internationally confirms the abilities of our companies to develop COVID-19 vaccines,” Food and Drug Safety Minister Oh Yu-kyoung said in a briefing. She indicated that SK Bioscience was seeking approval from World Health Organization (WHO) for its shots. If approved, this would allow for export opportunities.
South Korea’s virus restrictions have been reduced after it suffered an omicron surge in January. However, experts fear that the country could see another increase in infection despite having a high level of vaccination. This is due to waning immunity and possible new strains.
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It reported 10,463 cases of coronavirus in the country on Wednesday. This was its first day-to-day increase above 10,000 in just 20 days. Health Ministry official Son Youngrae said during a separate briefing it’s too early to tell whether the country is facing another surge after a months-long downward trend.
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