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This Oʻahu-born doctor fighting COVID-19 from South Korea says masks, distancing are still important

coronavirus covid Outbreak South Korea Daily Life
Lee Jin-man/AP
Visitors wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus visit at the International Quarantine Expo in Goyang, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A Hawaiʻi-born doctor is helping the International Vaccine Institute in South Korea contribute to the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jerome Kim grew up in Kāneʻohe and is currently the director general of the IVI, which develops vaccines for those living in middle to low-income countries.

With a new pill designed to treat COVID-19 hitting shelves soon, Kim said it should be considered as a third option to fight the virus.

He said we should still focus on strengthening our first lines of defense.

"The first line of defense is masks and distancing, crowd avoidance that we know prevents infection. Vaccines also provide a little bit of protection against infection, although really they're the second line of defense and the thing that prevents disease," Kim said. "Maybe we scientists didn't do a good job communicating. The vaccines were designed and tested originally to prevent mild to moderate PCR-positive disease."

"Almost all the vaccine trials were done that way. So it wasn't prevention of infection, but what we were trying to do was to develop vaccines that kept people from having symptomatic disease and progressing to severe disease, hospitalization and death," Kim said.

The third line of defense is providing treatment to people who become infected despite masks, distancing, and vaccination, he said.

Kim said the IVI has helped dozens of organizations around the world accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development since the start of the pandemic.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 7, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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