South Korea refuses to suspend winter flu jabs despite 13 deaths among vaccinated people which health officials say are unrelated
- Thirteen people have died including 11 who were part of a free vaccine campaign
- But Korean disease officials said there was a ‘low possibility’ they were related
- The Korean Medical Association had urged a pause to ease public concerns
South Korea today refused to suspend its winter flu jabs following the deaths of 13 vaccinated people, after health officials said there was no sign of a link.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency acknowledged there were more deaths than usual but said there was a ‘low possibility that the deaths resulted from the shots’.
The Korean Medical Association of doctors had urged the government to halt the jabs to ease public concerns and ensure the vaccines were safe.
At least 11 of the 13 dead, including a 17-year-old boy, were part of a campaign to inoculate 19million teenagers and senior citizens for free.
South Korea today refused to suspend its winter flu jabs following the deaths of 13 vaccinated people, after health officials said they were unrelated (file photo)
South Korea had ordered extra flu vaccines this year to ward off a ‘twindemic’ of flu and Covid-19 which could overwhelm hospitals in winter.
‘I understand and regret that people are concerned about the vaccine,’ said Health minister Park Neung-hoo as he announced that the programme would go ahead.
‘We’re looking into the causes but will again thoroughly examine the entire process in which various government agencies are involved, from production to distribution.’
Kim Chong-in, leader of the main opposition People Power party, wanted the programme halted until the causes of the deaths were verified.
But health authorities have said a preliminary investigation into six deaths found no direct link to the vaccines, with no toxic substances uncovered.
Data from the disease agency on Thursday showed at least seven of the nine people it investigated had underlying conditions.
‘The number of deaths has increased, but our team sees low possibility that the deaths resulted from the shots,’ the agency’s director, Jeong Eun-kyeong, told parliament.
Vaccine providers include domestic firms such as GC Pharma, SK Bioscience, Korea Vaccine and Boryung Biopharma Co Ltd, a unit of Boryung Pharm Co Ltd, along with France’s Sanofi.
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in looks into a microscope during a visit to a vaccine development company in Seongnam last week
The launch of the free programme had previously been suspended for three weeks after the discovery that about five million doses were kept at room temperature rather than being refrigerated.
Officials said 8.3million people had been inoculated since the programme resumed on October 13, with about 350 cases of adverse reactions reported.
A separate paid programme allows buyers to pick from a larger pool of firms that make free vaccines and others.
The most deaths in South Korea linked to seasonal flu vaccinations was six in 2005, the Yonhap news agency said.
Officials have said comparisons to previous years are tough, since more people are taking the vaccine this year.
Kim Myung-suk, 65, is among a growing number of South Koreans who decided to pay for a vaccine of their choice, despite being eligible for a free dose.
‘Though just a few people died so far, the number is growing and that makes me uneasy,’ she said in Seoul. ‘So I’m getting a shot somewhere else and will pay for it.’