The Latest: SKorea to give shots to elders in long-term care

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Women wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus watch their dogs playing at a park in Goyang, South Korea, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea will start administering coronavirus vaccines to hundreds of thousands of elders in long-term care settings this month after authorities approved the use of shots developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for adults 65 years old and older.

The decision by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was based on encouraging data from England and Scotland where the vaccines demonstrated effectiveness in lowering hospitalizations and death rates in the age group.

South Korean authorities had delayed the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for people over 65 when they launched the country’s mass immunization campaign last month, citing what they saw as insufficient laboratory data.

The decision faced criticism from health experts, who accused the government of risking the safety of people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. The country will be chiefly dependent on locally produced Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines during the first months of its vaccination campaign.

The KCDC says some 376,000 workers and residents over 65 at long-term care hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and rehab centers will begin receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca shots this month.

About 35% of the country’s COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 were linked to these long-term care facilities.