S.Korea pledges nearly $2 billion to become major COVID-19 vaccine producer


FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday he plans to invest 2.2 trillion won ($1.92 billion) to turn the country into one of the world's five largest COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing bases by 2025, his office said.

The remarks were made at a meeting of a public-private committee newly launched to explore ways to boost vaccine production amid global supply shortages and shipment delays.

Moon said he will designate COVID-19 vaccines as one of the three national strategic technologies, along with semiconductors and batteries, to ramp up investment, tax breaks and other incentives to help firms localise materials, parts and equipment.

"We will strive to take a leap forward to become one of the top five global vaccine producers by 2025," Moon told the meeting, pledging 2.2 trillion won ($1.92 billion) over the next five years.

The project also aimed to nurture some 200 new medical scientists, 10,000 clinical trial professionals and 2,000 bio production workers every year, he said.

Moon added he is seeking to expand international cooperation by forging vaccine partnerships with Germany, Britain and other countries, and bringing in foreign investment and companies.

He and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to clinch a partnership that blends U.S. vaccine expertise and Korean production capacity at their summit in May.

The panel includes medical and vaccine experts, venture capitalists and drugmakers including SK Bioscience, Samsung Biologics, ST Pharm and Ecell.

Moon has made the vaccine production drive a key priority for the remainder of his term, due to end in March, facing pressure at home over the fourth COVID-19 wave and a slowed immunisation campaign.

Some 39.6% of the country's 52 million population have received at least one shot as of Wednesday, whereas the numbers exceeded 70% in other rich nations including Singapore and Britain. Around 14.4% of Koreans have been fully vaccinated, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

South Korea aims to push up the number to 70%, or some 36 million, by September.

The KDCA reported 1,776 cases for Wednesday, as the daily count spiked despite toughest distancing curbs to smother the virus amid a summer vacation season and the rise of the more contagious Delta variants.

Total infections rose to 205,702, with 2,109 deaths.

($1 = 1,144.4200 won)

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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