Five South Koreans die after getting flu shots, sparking vaccine fears
From Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) - Five people have died after getting flu vaccinations in South Korea last week. Authorities raised concerns about the safety of the vaccine as the seasonal vaccination program expanded to avoid possible COVID-19 complications.
Authorities said there was no reason to believe the deaths were related to the vaccine, but an investigation, including autopsies, was ongoing.
"It's making it hard for us to make a categorical statement," Vice Health Secretary Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday in a briefing on the deaths, which include a 17-year-old boy and a man in his 70s.
Just weeks after the rollout of the national vaccination program was suspended due to safety concerns, deaths dominated the headlines in South Korea.
Last month, officials announced plans to source 20% more flu vaccines for the winter than last year to vaccinate 30 million people to keep the health system from being overwhelmed by patients with flu and COVID-19 exposure.
However, the launch of a free stabbing program for around 19 million eligible individuals was suspended for three weeks after it was found that around 5 million cans that require refrigeration were exposed to room temperature while in transit to a medical facility.
Building public confidence in vaccines has become a major global challenge this year as some countries rush to approve COVID-19 experimental vaccines before full safety and efficacy studies are completed.
South Korea's flu vaccines are supplied by a number of drug manufacturers including LG Chem Ltd <051910.KS> and Boryung Biopharma Co. Ltd., a unit of Boryung Pharm Co. Ltd. <003850.KS>. A Boryung official told Reuters that the company was aware of the reported deaths but had not made an immediate comment. LG Chem said the company will follow government advice.
A 17-year-old boy who died on Friday was the first death officials recorded after receiving the vaccine. The boy died two days after the flu shot in Incheon, near the capital, Seoul.
A man in his 70s with Parkinson's disease and arrhythmia was the most recent case. He died in Daegu on Wednesday, the day after receiving the flu vaccine. Daegu officials said the man has received vaccines since 2015 with no prior side effects.
According to official figures, 8.3 million people have been vaccinated against the free flu since it was resumed on October 13. Around 350 cases of side effects have been reported. There were six deaths related to seasonal flu vaccination in 2005, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
Trust in vaccines was a growing challenge for public health officials even before the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization identified vaccine reluctance as one of the top ten global health threats over the past year.
In South Korea, a poll earlier this month found that 62% of 2,548 respondents in Gyeonggi Province, near Seoul, would not be vaccinated against COVID-19, even with a vaccine approved, until all safety questions are fully answered.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jane Wardell)
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