SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Reuters) – South Korea encouraged its citizens to take booster shots for COVID-19 on Wednesday as more elderly people fell ill and reported breakthrough infections from vaccines, pushing serious and critical cases to a record.
Severe coronavirus cases jumped from the mid-300s in October to 460 on Wednesday, official data showed. More than 82% of the critically ill patients were 60 years of age and older.
Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a news conference that the rise does not yet pose a threat to the country’s health care system, as nearly 500 ICU beds are available.
He said the rate of the increase in serious cases and the magnitude of the total number of infections, especially among the unvaccinated, are key points to consider when making a decision about the future response to the health care system.
The total number of vaccine breakthrough infections in South Korea remains low: 85.5 people vaccinated per 100,000.
But it has risen steadily in recent weeks, led by the elderly, as vaccine protection wears off over time and the group’s weaker immune system makes them more vulnerable to infection.
Of the total serious and critical patients with vaccine breakthrough infections in the past eight weeks, 93% were age 60 and older, according to government data.
The country has vaccinated 640,232 people with a booster injection since the program began last month, mainly using vaccines from Pfizer (PFE.N)/BioNTech and Moderna (MRNA.O).
South Korea has started a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions this month as it has fully vaccinated nearly 90% of its adult population, or 77% of its 52 million people.
Authorities have said a circuit breaker will be issued when there is significant pressure on the number of hospital beds to treat serious cases, but have not disclosed the exact threshold.
The country reported 2,425 new cases on Tuesday. It has registered a total of 385,831 infections, with 3,012 deaths so far.
Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jacqueline Wong
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