North Korea remains unvaccinated two years into pandemic

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea is as of this month one of only two countries, along with Eritrea, that haven’t administered COVID-19 vaccines, despite continuous international efforts to supply the secretive country with vaccines.

Pyongyang last year turned down nearly two million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines and nearly three million doses of Sinovac vaccines offered by the international COVAX program. The country had requested that the Sinovac vaccines instead be re-allocated to severely affected nations.

Nearly 250,000 doses of Novavax vaccines allotted for North Korea by COVAX were canceled early this year, apparently due to a lack of response from Pyongyang. Experts say that Pyongyang’s dissatisfaction with the number and type of vaccines offered likely prompted them to turn down the shipments.

“The vaccines offered to North Korea so far are mostly those from AstraZeneca and Sinovac. What Pyongyang wants is U.S.-made vaccines, such as those from Pfizer,” Lee Wootae, director and research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told ABC News.

Another expert pointed out that North Korea turned down the vaccine offer because it didn’t fulfill the quantity the isolated regime wanted.

“It is not unreasonable for Pyongyang to decide that administering such a small amount of doses would have little effect,” Shin Young-jeon, professor at the Hanyang University College of Medicine, told ABC News.

Some believe Pyongyang’s reluctance is primarily affected by political judgment.

“The message that North Korea overcame a medical crisis with the help of U.S.-made vaccines will be difficult for the Kim Jong Un regime to justify, considering its critical stance towards the U.S.,” Lim Eul Chul, a professor at The Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, told ABC News.

The secretive regime may also have taken issue with the possibility of international supervision. The condition for receiving vaccines may not have been a comfortable prospect for Pyongyang, given the country’s state of total seclusion.

“For Pyongyang to accept vaccine offers, it must guarantee a transparent vaccine distribution plan. This means letting international monitors into the country and allowing them to interfere with how the vaccine is being distributed, and to whom,” Lim added.

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