SEOUL, Jan 12 (Reuters) - South Korea is turning to
additional pharmaceutical tools as it looks to pre-empt a surge
of COVID-19 omicron infections, authorizing the use of Novavax
Inc's vaccine on Wednesday and preparing to distribute the first
of Pfizer's antiviral pills.
At least 21,000 of Pfizer's antiviral pills, called
Paxlovid, will arrive in South Korea on Thursday, with another
10,000 more expected to arrive by the end of the month, the
health ministry said.
The pills, which were authorized for emergency use in
December, will begin being used in treatments for more than
1,000 people per day starting on Friday, the ministry added
"By priority, oral treatment is planned to begin first for
patients aged 65 or older, or patients with reduced immunity at
home and residential treatment centers," a ministry spokesperson
told a briefing.
Paxlovid was nearly 90% effective in preventing
hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe
illness, according to data from the company's clinical trial.
Recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness
against Omicron, Pfizer has said.
South Korea's food and drug safety ministry, meanwhile,
announced it had authorized the Novavax vaccine, which
joins the ranks of previously authorized vaccines made by
AstraZeneca Inc, Moderna Inc, Pfizer, and
Johnson & Johnson's Janssen.
South Korean vaccine developer SK Bioscience Co Ltd
said it will produce the Novavax vaccine.
The two-dose, protein-based vaccine has secured
authorisations from European Union regulators and the World
It has been authorized in India, Indonesia and the
Philippines, where Novavax's partner, Serum Institute of India,
will supply it.
Novavax is awaiting approval in Japan, where its vaccine
would be manufactured and distributed by Takeda Pharmaceutical
At least 84.2% of the country's 52 million population have
been fully vaccinated, while 42.5%, have received booster shots,
according to health officials.
South Korea added 4,388 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight
Tuesday, for a total of 674,868 cases and 6,166 deaths since the
pandemic began, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency
That number has dipped from all-time highs of nearly 8,000
daily cases in mid-December, when authorities re-imposed strict
social distancing measures to try to stem the tide.
Omicron only accounts for a fraction of South Korea's cases
so far, but that percentage has risen to more than 12.5% from 4%
at the end of December, health officials said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang, Joyce Lee, and Yeni Seo; Writing
by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)