North Korea has rejected nearly 3 million doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine.
The isolated nation said the vaccines should be sent to a country that needs them more. Since the global outbreak, North Korea has reported zero cases of COVID-19.
However, Business Insider reports that “in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blasted North Korean officials for their ‘chronic irresponsibility and incompetence’ handling the pandemic, signaling that the virus may have reached the country.”
The shipment was organized by the United Nations Children’s agency as part of the COVAX program, which aims to provide poorer nations with vaccines.
In an email to Voice of America, a UNICEF spokesperson said, “The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has communicated that the 2.97 million doses being offered to DPR Korea by COVAX may be relocated to severely affected countries in view of the limited global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and recurrent surge in some countries.”
The COVAX program sent North Korea 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this year. Those were rejected because of reports that the vaccines may cause serious blood clots in some cases.
A think tank in South Korea suggested that North Korea is more comfortable with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine because they distrust the effectiveness of the Chinese-made alternative. The Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), which is affiliated with South Korea’s spy agency, reports that North Korea would want Russia’s vaccine to be donated free of charge.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in July that Moscow has offered Pyongyang vaccines on a number of occasions, per NBC News. Russia had also offered to donate medical equipment.
Upon evacuating dozens of its citizens from the country, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang cited “difficult coronavirus times.”
“The WHO’s weekly situation report showed that North Korea tested 37,291 people for COVID-19 and collected more than 74,000 samples. The latest tests were performed on 665 people from Aug. 12 to 19,” notes IB Times.
“Experts say it is unclear whether the dictator is pushing propaganda or if the poor country is reeling from the pandemic like everyone else,” says The Washington Times. “North Korea sealed its borders to try to keep the pathogen out, and Mr. Kim has repeatedly reminded senior leaders to remain vigilant against the virus.”
While North Korea has not begun administering the vaccine internally, it did allow for its diplomats stationed abroad to be vaccinated.