South Korea in talks to secure 40 million doses of Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during an online New Year news conference with local and foreign journalists at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, January 18, 2021. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is in talks to purchase 40 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Novavax, its local manufacturer SK bioscience said on Wednesday.

The deal, if agreed, will boost supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the country to 146 million doses, more than enough for its 52 million residents, and comes as it prepares to start mass inoculations in February.

SK bioscience, which also manufactures AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, is working on a technology transfer deal with Novavax which will allow it to produce and sell vaccines on its own, the drugmaker arm of SK Chemicals said.

A deal with the South Korean government could be its first direct supply deal.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in visited SK’s worksite on Wednesday and said the agreement between Novavax and SK bioscience raised the possibility of securing additional doses of vaccines.

The country has already secured 106 million doses to allow for coverage of 56 million people from global vaccine supply facility COVAX and Western drugmakers including Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Moon’s visit comes as his administration faces criticism for not taking the necessary steps to achieve its goal of reaching herd immunity to the coronavirus through mass vaccinations by November.

The government had laid out a timeline that calls for vaccinations of key individuals to begin in February, with 32 million to 36 million people vaccinated by September.

South Korea reported 404 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, bringing the country’s tally to 73,518 cases, with 1,300 deaths.

Reporting by Joyce Lee, Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jacqueline Wong