Ever since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea has claimed to not be suffering from its effects, to the widespread skepticism of much of the world. At the same time, the North Korean regime has taken various draconian steps to avoid the virus, from border restrictions to delaying the start of the school year.
Now, a new report says North Korea has not been cooperating with one international vaccine distribution program.
The Voice of America reported over the weekend that North Korea “has done little to advance the process to receive vaccines from COVAX.” COVAX is an international effort from the United Nations to distribute coronavirus vaccines in underdeveloped countries.
North Korea was set to receive 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, from COVAX, in March. But according to the VOA report, negotiations between North Korea and Gavi, the alliance that supervises the COVAX program, have “stalled,” with the North Korean regime only taking two out of seven required administrative steps.
The regime has expressed concerns about the safety of that particular vaccine and has also refused to let international workers into the country to facilitate the distribution. Also of concern is a lack of the necessary refrigeration in North Korea. Gavi will not distribute vaccines without being physically present in the country.
“If the DPRK had been swift with the paperwork, they would have gotten some vaccines. It’s hard to say how much, but if they complied with the request from Gavi we would be well underway now,” a “source familiar with the talks” told VOA.
In a statement, Gavi acknowledged that North Korea had not yet received the vaccines.
“Work is ongoing and discussions continue with DPRK,” a Gavi spokesperson told VOA. “As we get closer to a potential delivery, we’ll be able to share more information on timetables.”
The vaccine story coincides with a mysterious “grave incident” that was recently acknowledged by the Kim regime. According to the BBC, Kim Jong-un recently blamed underlings for having “caused a grave incident that has caused a great risk to people and the nation’s safety.”
“Kim Jong-un’s comment may indicate a possible breach of the coronavirus quarantine system or that a new smuggling trade route at the North Korean-China border has been discovered,” a BBC analyst said of that development.
“The fact that the expanded Politburo meeting was held 11 days after the plenary session suggests that the Covid situation is a serious challenge.”
Recent reports of a significant amount of weight loss by the North Korean leader have led to speculation about Kim’s health, although there’s been no official explanation for the leader’s slimmer appearance of late.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.