Title [Article] The Road to Vaccine Self-Sufficiency (KOICA COVID-19 Information Hub)
  • Writer Vital-Korea
  • Date 2021-04-29
  • View 583

The KOICA “Editorial Articles” is a featured section, designed to deliver voices of renowned field experts regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This section will be updated every Thursday, covering diverse topics from medical facts to socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. 


The Road to Vaccine Self-Sufficiency 

by Baik Lin Seong (Director General, VITAL-Korea) and Hee Jung Cho (Researcher, VITAL-Korea)


The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world and exposed the vulnerabilities of individuals, societies, and countries. It revealed to us that our health systems are extremely vulnerable. But most importantly, the pandemic made us realize the importance of vaccines, more viscerally than ever. 
COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that raised serious concerns about our public health, and it certainly won’t be the last. We witnessed many disease outbreaks in the human history. There was the Black Death in 1350 which was responsible for the death of one-third of the world’s population . Then came the Spanish flu (H1N1 virus) which was believed to have infected one-third of the world’s population in 1918 . The first flu vaccine was produced in 1942 using fertilized chicken eggs which means it took more than 20 years for the vaccine to be developed . In the United States alone, flu vaccines prevented estimated numbers of 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths during 2019-2020 . Smallpox, before its eradication in 1980, took more than 300 million lives in the 20th century . The eradication of smallpox was solely due to successful vaccine programs and is considered as one of the greatest achievements of vaccination programs in history. 




Vaccine technologies cannot be developed in a day. The UK has built 200 years of research achievements since Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine, and now The Jenner Institute is leading the race for the COVID-19 vaccine. VITAL-Korea will endeavor to compress 200 years of research achievements in UK into the next 20 years in Korea. S. Korea, accustomed to rapid economic growth within short period, has lacked mid- to long-term R&D plans on vaccine technologies and infrastructures. The COVID-19 pandemic asks us to make a paradigm shift in the vaccine development. The conventional paradigm requires at least 10-15 years for a vaccine to be developed, if all clinical trials go smoothly. For pandemics like COVID-19 or unknown Disease-X, the vaccine development and inoculation must outpace the spread of the virus among human population. The situation asks us to develop innovative technologies to ensure developing and deploying vaccines as immediate countermeasure against the diseases. This can only be achieved through close ties in public and private sectors, and incentives in vaccine R&D and procurements.
To attain the pledged vaccine self-sufficiency by next ten years of investment, the Korean government must make vaccine policies that encourage local pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines. Global vaccine policies and national regulatory hurdles on development, testing, supply and purchase system should be analyzed and tailored for the domestic market to grow. Difficulties of the local vaccine industry must be acknowledged and carefully accommodated to fuel the local pharmaceutical industry and to accelerate the path to increasing self-sufficiency. By establishing policies and infrastructure for vaccine production, we hope to emerge as one of the leading countries in the race for global vaccine supply.


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