South Korea's spy agency said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely has not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The agency said it has seen no signs of inoculations and of any foreign vaccines arriving in the secretive country.
The National Intelligence Service said during a closed-door meeting Friday that it has not received any information of vaccines arriving in North Korea. Ha Tae-keung, a politician who had attended the meeting, was quoted as saying that they believe Kim has likely not yet been inoculated.
The United Nation's COVAX initiatives said in February that it plans to send up to 1.9 million coronavirus vaccine doses to North Korea within the first half of the year. However, the NIS said it hasn't found evidence of any vaccine shipments arriving in the county.
Sources said North Korea has been trying to secure coronavirus vaccines for its more than 26 million people - many of which are currently battling starvation because of the pandemic, storms and drought.
UNICEF - the organization in charge of procuring and distributing vaccines for COVAX - said North Korea has yet to complete the necessary paperwork to receive its supply.
"WHO and UNICEF have been working with the (North Korean) Ministry of Public Health to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. However, (North Korea) has not received vaccines through the COVAX Facility yet and there is no confirmation when the country will receive them," UNICEF said.
Non-government experts previously speculated that Kim and top government officials may have already received vaccines procured from unofficial channels. Kim Byung-kee, another politician, said North Korea may be trying to dispel public expectations of vaccines from abroad. He said the government may be instead bolstering its "anti-virus vigilance."
The politician said North Korea is currently building additional guard posts and fences along its border with China to prevent people from coming in and going out as part of its anti-virus campaign.
During his last speech, Kim berated some of his top officials for "crucial" failures in their fight against the pandemic. He said the failure had caused a "great crisis," which is contradictory to previous statements stating that the nation had a "perfect record" in controlling the spread of the disease.
Last week, the World Health Organization said it received a report from North Korea indicating that it had already conducted Covid-19 tests on some of its citizens and all were negative. Experts from around the world have continued to question North Korea's assertions.
The NIS said North Korea initially planned to reopen its border with China in April. However, the country shelved the idea because of a shortage of disinfectants and personal protection equipment.