A South Korean mayor who almost fell for a vaccine scam has publicly apologised for his actions.
Kwon Young-jin, who has been critical of the government’s vaccine programme, told the media last month that a foreign company had promised to provide 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine within three weeks.
South Korea has experienced a relatively slow vaccine rollout, compared to other developed economies in the region. Nearly 17% of its population have received their first vaccine dose, with plans to vaccinate 14 million people by the end of the month. The country is aiming for herd immunity by autumn.
Kwon, a member of the opposition party, said, “It was my mistake that this case regarded as one of the simple cases of a failed vaccine import has escalated into a fake vaccine fraud case.”
He is the mayor of Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea after Seoul, Busan, and Incheon.
On May 31, Kwon told reporters that an association of medical institutions in the city of Daegu had held negotiations with a foreign trading company to import 30 million Pfizer doses.
The Medi-City Daegu Council and the trading company reportedly exchanged documents, later transferred to the health and welfare ministry.
But the government found this vaccine proposal had “reliability issues”, noting that Pfizer only supplied its vaccines to central governments and international health organisations, never through third parties.
The health and welfare minister’s policy adviser later indicated that the purported address of the company appeared to be in Florida, and that its phone number was traced to Portugal, according to a report by Joong Ang Daily.
The mayor told Yonhap News, “The image of Daegu was tarnished due to my careless words. I also caused deep wounds and disappointment to the citizens suffering from Covid-19.”
President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party reportedly responded by saying that the incident had “damaged the country’s international image”.
South Korea saw more than 600 cases on Wednesday, as it struggles to battle a series of sporadic cluster infections.
It initially won praise last year for its strong response to the virus, using contact tracing to stop outbreaks.