North Korea has rejected planned shipments of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were being staged as part of the COVAX global distribution program over concerns about side effects, a South Korean think tank said on Friday.
COVAX said it will deliver nearly 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to North Korea. The first batch was due in late May but was delayed amid protracted consultations, South Korea said last month.
North Korea has not reported any cases of Covid-19, a position disputed by South Korean and American officials. The reclusive country, however, has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and restrictions on domestic travel.
Download the NBC News app for comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
According to the report by the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), which is affiliated with the South Korean spy agency, Pyongyang is currently exploring other vaccine options.
When asked about the report, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, one of the organizations that co-leads COVAX, referred specific questions about North Korea’s preferences and policies to the government in Pyongyang.
“We continue to work with the DPRK authorities, as we work with all the countries we serve, to help respond to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said a spokesperson for GAVI, using the initials of the official name of North Korea.
The INSS report also says North Korea does not like Chinese vaccines due to fears they may not be as effective, but has expressed interest in Russian-made vaccines, hoping they will would be given free of charge.
“He is leaning towards the Russian vaccine, but no arrangement has been made,” Lee Sang-keun, director of strategic research on the Korean peninsula at the INSS, told Reuters, citing anonymous sources.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Moscow had offered vaccines to Pyongyang on several occasions.
Lee added that North Korean officials were concerned about the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of rare but serious blood clotting events in some people who received it.
While North Korea has allowed its diplomats abroad to receive Covid-19 vaccines from the end of March, it is not trying to secure vaccines for internal use, the INSS said.