Rodong Sinmun, an official state newspaper in North Korea, reportedly warned residents against the use of vaccines to fight the Chinese coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, claiming that some “caused severe side effects, including even death.”
The South Korean news service Yonhap translated the commentary dismissing the effectiveness of the currently available vaccines and vaccine candidates on the international market. As of Tuesday afternoon press time, Rodong Sinmun’s English-language website did not appear to carry the commentary.
North Korea commenting on vaccines for the Chinese coronavirus belies its repeated assurances it has not documented a single case of the disease within its borders. North Korea is surrounded by coronavirus hotspots including Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the nation where the virus originated, China. Yet the communist regime insists it successfully prevented all citizens from contracting the disease.
Pyongyang raised suspicions in January when reports leaked the government of dictator Kim Jong-un requested a shipment of vaccines from Covax, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)’s program to help underdeveloped countries better access available coronavirus vaccines – which would presumably not be necessary in a country that had not diagnosed a single case of coronavirus disease since the virus was first discovered and identified. Kim’s repeated public statements apologizing to the Korean people for unspecified failures and describing North Korea as being in its “worst ever” situation added to concerns the country’s deteriorated socialist health care system all but collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic.
According to Yonhap, Rodong Sinmun‘s commentary “urged people to brace for a prolonged fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” while still not admitting to any cases identified in the country. It went on to make the claim that news of the development of vaccines against the Chinese coronavirus did not mean that the pandemic would soon end. Vaccines are not believed to be available anywhere in North Korea at press time.
“The situations in many countries prove that vaccines are far from a panacea,” the newspaper argued. “Some vaccines, which had been considered highly effective, caused severe side effects, including even death, leading many countries to stop their use.”
The report did not reportedly identify any of the allegedly deadly coronavirus vaccines. Some vaccine candidates widely available, like Chinese firm Sinovac’s “Coronavac,” have been the subject of debate regarding their relative safety for use in senior citizens. No vaccine candidate has received approval for use in children at press time. And one widely distributed vaccine, by the European company AstraZeneca, has seen its approval rescinded in several countries after reports of blood clots suspected to have ties to its use. Rodong Sinmun did not reportedly provide any of this information in suggesting vaccines have limited use in containing the pandemic.
The state newspaper lamented the pandemic as an “inevitable reality” and urged stricter adherence to coronavirus restrictions in the country. Given the secretive nature of the regime, information regarding what measures average citizens are forced to take is limited. Adding to the confusion is the communist regime’s decision to widely publicize a large event in Pyongyang on May 1, or International Workers’ Day, when communists celebrate the deadly results of their ideology.
According to NK News, which focuses on reporting from within the country, the communist regime congregated thousands of people “in a massive parade of dancers and torchlight bearers” for a parade honoring the Communist Youth League’s tenth congress. While it did not reveal the date on which the event was held, Saturday’s broadcast of the event suggested it occurred recently and did not indicate any significant social distancing or other preventative measures were in place.
“In the almost 40-minute broadcast, the performers moved in a synchronized manner to spell out party slogans like ‘self-rehabilitation,’ ‘offensive spirit,’ and ‘great party,’ as well as ’10th Congress of the Youth League,’” NK News reported. “In one scene, they arranged themselves to form a nuclear sign with blue, green and red LED lights between the words ‘self-sufficiency.’”
North Korea operates under a caste system known as “songbun,” in which families considered most loyal to the party enjoy the most wealth. Families with low “songbun” are not allowed to enter Pyongyang and many are relegated to the nation’s notorious concentration camps. One family member found to be disloyal to the Kim family could result in multiple generations of entire families being forced into a lifetime of labor at a camp. Given this system, it is possible for North Korea to even more severely limit travel internally, protecting the population of Pyongyang from those who live on the border with China. The songbun system also sheds light on who would be most able to receive vaccines in the event that North Korea received any.
As of January, sources told the Wall Street Journal that Kim Jong-un was attempting to reserve vaccine doses from Covax. Similar reports do not exist of Pyongyang reaching out for help from China, its allegedly closest ally that has invested heavily in selling its domestically developed vaccines to the outside world.
“Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, declined to comment on North Korea’s application. But the group is assessing individual economies’ demands and expects to provide an update early in the year, a Gavi spokesman said,” The Wall Street Journal reported at the beginning of the year. “In recent weeks, North Korea has reached out to several European embassies, inquiring how the country might obtain Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccines, according to people familiar with the matter.”
Yonhap reported on Tuesday that Covax expected to ship North Korea 1.7 million vaccine doses; North Korea’s population is believed to be around 25 million people.