SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Korea Bizwire) — The defense ministry decided Wednesday to allow South Korean soldiers and civilian workers affiliated with the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to get COVID-19 vaccinations shipped from the U.S. for its troops stationed here, officials said.
The South Korean troops affiliated with the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army, known as KATUSA, as well as civilians working for USFK, are eligible for the inoculation according to the U.S. government’s vaccination plan, and USFK and Seoul’s defense ministry have discussed the matter.
“We’ve notified USFK of our decision that the inoculation will be possible if the Korean nationals can make a voluntary decision and the U.S. military provides a list of those taking shots to our side,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
They will be first South Koreans to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the country. South Korea plans to start its vaccination program in February.
USFK began administering its initial doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to health care workers, first responders and its command team, after the first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in South Korea last week.
The Moderna vaccine was authorized for emergency use and vaccination is voluntary, though USFK strongly recommends its members take the shots.
“USFK applauds MND’s decision to allow Korean Nationals and KATUSAs to be vaccinated alongside their USFK teammates,” USFK said in a statement, referring to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense by its acronym.
“We will begin to inoculate those who volunteer within the next few days as appointments become available within their designated group,” it added.
The Seoul ministry said the vaccinations for the South Koreans will take place according to USFK’s own plan. The inoculation is likely to begin as early as Monday.
Exactly how many South Koreans will subject to the inoculation campaign was not immediately known.
Currently, there are more than 3,000 Army troops working as part of KATUSA at U.S. military installations, and around 40 KATUSA soldiers are working inside the U.S.’ Allgood Army Community Hospital inside Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, where the USFK headquarters are located.
USFK is also reviewing putting on the inoculation list South Koreans affiliated with the Combined Forces Command and other entities working closely with USFK, according to the defense ministry.
“USFK is expected to decide the list of priority according to its phased plan. South Koreans working at the U.S. military medical facilities would be first in line,” a ministry official said.
Those who develop any side effects or adverse reactions will receive treatment at USFK medical facilities, and they can seek compensation for possible damage, according to the ministry.
An official of South Korea’s Central Disease Control Headquarters told reporters that the latest move means that the government would not restrict the citizens’ own decision about the inoculation.
“Allowing them to get a vaccine does not mean that the (South Korean) authorities made any judgment on the safety of the vaccine,” she said.