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Lives of unvaccinated citizens amid S. Korea's gradual return to normal Updated: 2021-11-19 17:06:24 KST

"One year. It's been almost one year."
"Have you all been vaccinated?"
"Yes. We got both shots."

"It's been 3 or 4 months since we last met. Now we are all vaccinated and seeing each other after a really long time."

"With most of the population now fully vaccinated,… more people are out in the streets, finally spending some quality time with their friends. But what about those who haven't been vaccinated?"

A vaccine pass was introduced under the government's 'gradual return to normal' scheme.
Starting November, facilities deemed high risk began to require the pass.
This means people must show a proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test taken within the last 48 hours if they want to use the facilities.

"One of the places that requires the pass is the fitness center,… where some people spend the most time besides work and home."

"Please show me your vaccine pass."
"What happens if I'm not vaccinated?"
"You must show a negative PCR test. If you haven't taken the test, you can't enter."

"So for me to do my regular exercise, I would either have to get fully vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 within the past two days. This means regular members would have to get tested as many as three times a week."

Because of this, some unvaccinated people are taking a break from the gym.

"There are one or two people who have cancelled memberships. But around ten people decided to put them on hold for two weeks, as we decided to allow users to extend their memberships without extra cost."

Vaccine passes are also mandatory for public baths, as well as singing rooms.

"People usually don't plan on coming to singing rooms days in advance. So those who aren't vaccinated,… have no other choice but to return home."

"Only the fully vaccinated are allowed to enter, so those who haven't had shots can't come in. So we are seeing a slight decline in revenue as well. We see around ten groups every day turn around and leave because they aren't all vaccinated."

At nightlife entertainment facilities, negative PCR tests are not accepted.
This means partygoers at clubs and bars must all be inoculated.

"In cinemas, people can enjoy movies regardless of vaccination status. But some screens are dedicated to the fully vaccinated. There, they can have popcorn and drinks. But if you haven't had the shot, you can't have any food to-go."

"Please show me your vaccine pass."
"14 days have elapsed since final vaccine dose"

The vaccine pass has prompted some who were originally unwilling to get the shots to finally roll up their sleeves.

"You can't get a vaccine pass yet."
"That's right."
"It must be hard for you to use some facilities."
"That's why I got the shot.
I wanted to go to the fitness center but I was not allowed to enter.
So I decided to get my first shot and now, I'm waiting for my second dose."

Due to such cases, some of those who have already been fully inoculated are in favor of the vaccine pass.

"I think it's good because it can encourage people to get vaccinated. The more the pass is required, the more people would want to get the shot."

"I think it's a little unfair for those who got vaccinated, if unvaccinated people could just enter facilities after taking a PCR test."

"But I don't really think it matters if they get tested within 48 hours."

But many others feel that the pass is a form of discrimination.

"The vaccine pass is more like penalty for those who aren't vaccinated, rather than an incentive for those who got the shot. Before the pass was implemented, I could exercise at the gym while wearing a mask. And now, I'm not allowed to use that same facility anymore. This is when it really hit me."

"I think it's an undemocratic way of forcing people to get the shot. I'm also not sure if getting tested within 48 hours is realistic. Even now, I work overtime and barely go to the gym, so I honestly wonder how anyone can get tested every two days."

As of Friday, 78.6% of the total population had completed vaccinations,… meaning more than a fifth have not been fully vaccinated.
If you just look at the adult population,… one in ten haven't gotten the shots.
And vaccination rates are lowest among those in their 20s and 30s.

"Why aren't you willing to get vaccinated?"
"I'm a little worried and I saw some news articles about the side effects.
So I'm quite passive about getting vaccinated."

"I feel more scared about suffering from vaccine side effects than from getting COVID-19. I know a few healthy people who've gotten shots, and they're currently seeing doctors due to heart problems."

"I got the first shot, but I didn't feel well afterwards. I suffered for three days. I began to lose faith in vaccines after hearing the news about side effects, and decided not to get the second dose for now."

Out of 81 million shots administered, 374-thousand cases of adverse reactions were reported.
This works out as 0.46%.
Of those, the majority had relatively lighter symptoms,… such as muscle pain, headaches, and fever.
Just 13-thousand of those reactions were severe cases.
There were around 900 suspected post-vaccination deaths, but only two of those have been found to have any link to the vaccines.

Though the numbers show that the chances of severe side effects are only 0.0-1-6-percent, there are still many people worried about the vaccine's safety.

"I think we will be able to gain a little more trust if information regarding vaccine side effects is more acknowledged and revealed in a transparent way."

In light of such concerns, South Korea launched a COVID-19 vaccine safety committee this month.
The committee, operated by the National Academy of Medicine of Korea,… will look at any potential links between vaccinations and adverse reactions.

"The committee will be studying domestic and overseas research data to provide an objective and scientific basis to address major issues linked with post-vaccination health in South Korea. We will also be looking into statistics on adverse reactions, deaths, and medical treatment and regularly provide transparent findings to the public."

The government has been paying compensation for side effects,.. if sufficient causality is proved.
Now with the safety committee's research results, the compensation committee can refer to that data when evaluating causality for individual cases.

Authorities are also keeping a close eye on the global front.
Citing overseas studies, officials recently decided to stop giving Moderna vaccines to people aged under 30.
Instead, they will use the Pfizer vaccine.
This comes as several European countries restricted Moderna vaccinations after discovering that it poses a higher risk of heart-related symptoms.

While health authorities are doing their part to gain the faith of the unvaccinated,… experts are stressing the need to get shots,.. saying the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks.

"Around 3.1% of unvaccinated people developed serious illnesses. This is a rate five times higher than among those who've been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the risk of death in people without immunity was three times higher than their fully vaccinated peers."

Another expert says that while immunity might drop over time, vaccinated people will always have some level of protection.

"Our body forms so-called 'memory cells' when we contract COVID-19 or get vaccinated against it. While antibody levels gradually decrease after a certain amount of time, these 'memory cells' have the ability to defend themselves when they are attacked by the same virus in the future."

South Korea's vaccination rate is among the highest in the world, but clearer data and explanations of the benefits and risks might persuade some unvaccinated people to get on board.
Choi Min-jung, Arirang News.
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