North Korea will begin vaccinating its people against Covid-19 around November, state media said Friday, about a month after the country declared victory over the virus.
It is the first time the isolated regime officially announced its plans for vaccination since the start of the pandemic.
“Along with responsible vaccine administration, we need to recommend that all citizens wear a mask to protect their own health starting November,” leader Kim Jong Un said, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Health experts in the country believe North Koreans’ antibody levels — acquired during the epidemic which the regime confirmed in May — will decrease by October, Kim added.
Friday’s KCNA report did not elaborate on where the vaccines were from.
The regime last year rejected planned shipments of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccines, arranged by the World Health Organization’s COVAX scheme, due to concerns over side effects, according to a South Korean think tank.
The impoverished nation, which has maintained a rigid blockade since the start of the pandemic, confirmed an outbreak of the Omicron variant in the capital Pyongyang about four months ago.
Leader Kim — who fell ill during the outbreak — declared victory over the virus last month and ordered the lifting of the country’s “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” as officially reported cases fell to zero.
It had been believed that the North did not vaccinate any of its 26 million residents, but Seoul-based specialist site NK News has reported Pyongyang may have received some from its key ally China.
North Korea refers to “fever patients” rather than “Covid patients” in case reports, apparently due to a lack of testing capacity.
It has recorded nearly 4.8 million “fever” infections and just 74 deaths for an official fatality rate of 0.002 percent, according to state media.
Experts, including the World Health Organization, have long questioned Pyongyang’s Covid statistics, as well as its claims to have brought the outbreak under control.
North Korea has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs, according to experts.