North Korea has rejected about three million doses of China's Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine, urging that the vials instead be allocated to other countries with severe outbreaks, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) confirmed on Tuesday.

UNICEF obtains and distributes the vaccines under the UN-backed COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) program, an international vaccine distribution initiative that aims to ensure poorer nations are not left behind in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the Business Insider reported.

"The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has communicated that the 2.97 million doses being offered to DPR Korea by COVAX may be relocated to severely affected countries given the limited global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and recurrent surge in some countries," a UNICEF spokesperson said in an email.

The MOPH has, however, vowed to continue working with the COVAX facility so they may receive another batch of the COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months, they added.

Earlier this year, the COVAX program initially allocated nearly 2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to DPRK but Pyongyang scrapped the shipment of the batches in July amid reports of rare but serious blood clots among individuals inoculated with the AstraZeneca doses.

According to Harvard Medical School's Dr. Kee Park, the director of Korea Health Policy Project, North Korea may also be waiting for reports on Sinovac vaccines' side effects to emerge before securing some batches of the vials for Pyongyang, NK News noted.

“For the AstraZeneca vaccine, the side effects were definitely a factor in the delay. They sent a letter to the WHO asking [for] more information,” he explained.

It seems the DPRK also remains skeptical about the efficacy of Chinese-made vaccines, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy. The think tank further noted that the government currently prefers Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for their national rollout and intends to provide it free of cost.

North Korea has not logged any COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in late December 2019.

In its latest report to the World Health Organization, the isolated kingdom claimed to have carried out 37, 291 COVID-19 tests as of Aug. 19 with all returning a negative result, according to VOA News.

However, there has been heavy skepticism about the accuracy of these numbers. In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lambasted his officials for their "chronic irresponsibility and incompetence" in handling the pandemic, flagging that the virus may have breached the country's borders.

North Korea
North Korea has not logged any COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in late December 2019. However, there's heavy skepticism about the accuracy of these numbers. Kim Won Jin/Getty Images

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