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S.Korea starts vaccination for 55-59 age group as COVID-19 caseloads remain high

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By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL, July 26 (Reuters) - South Korea kicked off COVID-19 vaccinations for people ages 55-59 on Monday to speed up the pace of its inoculation campaign, as the country battles the fourth wave of infections.

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for people in their upper 50s had sputtered to a week-long halt this month after a record high number of new cases sparked a rush for shots, exhausting available supplies and crashing an official reservation website..

About 6.17 million people, or 84% of those in their 50s, have signed up for vaccinations last week, and authorities switched to Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna shot for some people in the group because of fluctuations in shipment schedule.

The authorities had faced criticism for being short on supplies and for a last minute change that temporarily extended the dosing interval for Pfizer shots to 4 weeks instead of 3 to match that of Moderna's.

South Korea has prioritised immunising the elderly, the vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers. It has inoculated 33% of its 52 million population with at least one dose, while 13% have been fully inoculated.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 1,318 new coronavirus cases for Sunday. Total infections in the country stand at 190,166, with 2,077 deaths.

Mass testing and tracing have helped the country suffer lower COVID-19 death rates than other developed countries so far without a full lockdown, but the new wave of infections prompted the government on Sunday to tighten social distancing rules across most of the country this week to head off transmission in the summer holidays. (Reporting by Sangmi Cha. Editing by Gerry Doyle)