South Korean authorities have reported that 83 people have died after receiving flu shots. The news comes a week after the country’s health agency announced a probe on its mass vaccination program.
The Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced on Oct. 31, Saturday, that 83 people in total have died after participating in a free vaccination initiative. The government had billed the initiative as a way to offset potential complications from COVID-19.
The rising deaths have deterred many from getting vaccinated, with the Korean Medical Association calling for a temporary suspension of the flu shots. Authorities, however, have urged calm, saying that any link was coincidental.
Government experts say vaccines are fine, but South Koreans remain wary
Investigations and autopsies of most cases, however, have so far found little to no evidence that the deaths were associated with the vaccine injections.
“It’s been confirmed that the deaths were not directly linked to flu vaccinations,” Korea President Moon Jae-in said on Oct. 26, Monday.
Moon appealed to the Korean public to “put trust in the conclusions” reached by health authorities and experts. At the same time, he also called for an expansion of the flu vaccination program to avoid a “twin pandemic” of influenza and COVID-19 in the coming winter.
Meanwhile, to quell growing distrust from the public, Heath Minister Park Neung-hoo, 64, publicly took the shot on Oct. 27, Tuesday. All South Korean’s aged 62 or older are entitled to free flu shots, financed by the state.
Despite assurances from government health experts that the deaths have nothing to do with the vaccines, hospital workers reported a drop in the number of people coming in for vaccinations.
“Instead of having a flu injection and getting killed, I’d rather wear a mask all the time to fend off both flu and the Covid-19 as well,” said one online commenter.
Others, however, have said that they would overcome their anxieties to get the shot.
“I am diabetic and asthmatic,” explained Lee Mi-hwa, a woman in her mid-60s, to a TV news program. “So I was hesitant to receive a flu shot but I decided to believe in what the government says.”
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for an investigation into potential safety issues with the vaccines last week to allay potential concerns.
“The authorities should thoroughly investigate the causal relationship between vaccinations and the deaths, and make public the development transparently,” the prime minister said at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.
Chung noted that the public remains nervous despite experts stating that there was no connection between the deaths and the flu shots.
“I call on the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency to closely consult experts and do its best to take sufficient measures and explain swiftly so that people can receive vaccinations without anxiety,” he added.
On Oct. 29, Thursday, the South Korean government affirmed that the immunization program will continue despite the suspected deaths.
Other Asian countries dealing with similar vaccine issues
While South Korea has opted to continue with its immunization program, other Asian countries that have seen similar vaccine-related issues are doing the opposite. (Related: Indonesia, which has the second-worst COVID-19 outbreak in Asia, is now the testing ground for a Chinese vaccine.)
In Taiwan, authorities had had to calm fears after a man in Taichung was hospitalized and later fell into a coma after receiving a flu vaccine. The man was later diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, and health officials have stated that it was unlikely that it was caused by the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Singapore temporarily halted the use of two flu vaccines. The city-state has not seen any deaths associated with influenza vaccination so far. The health ministry, however, decided to halt the use of SKYCellflu Quadrivalent and VaxigripTetra as a precautionary measure in response to the deaths in South Korea.
Whether the immunizations in these vaccines will be used in future programs will most likely depend on the results of investigations in South Korea.
Follow Vaccines.news for more news on ongoing investigations on vaccine deaths.
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