Fri, 23 Oct 2020 © REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
FILE PHOTO: A man gets an influenza vaccine at a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, October 21, 2020
.South Korean officials refused on Thursday to suspend a seasonal influenza inoculation effort, despite growing calls for a halt, including an appeal from a key group of doctors, after the deaths of at least 25 of those vaccinated. Health authorities said they found no direct links between the deaths and the vaccines.
At least 22 of the dead, including a 17-year-old boy, were part of a campaign to inoculate 19 million teenagers and senior citizens for free, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Comment: Since when did teenagers need a vaccine for the flu?
"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.
South Korea ordered a fifth more flu vaccines this year to ward off what it calls a "twindemic", or the prospect that people with flu develop coronavirus complications and overburden hospitals in winter.
"I understand and regret that people are concerned about the vaccine," said health minister Park Neung-hoo, who confirmed the free programme would carry on.
"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."
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.
They supply both the free programme and paid services that together aim to vaccinate about 30 million people of a population of 52 million.
Of the 25 dead, 10 received products from SK Bioscience, five each from Boryung and GC Pharma, one from Korea Vaccine and four from Sanofi.
All four domestic firms declined to comment, while Sanofi did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
It was not immediately clear if any of the vaccines made in South Korea were exported, or if those supplied by Sanofi were also being used elsewhere.
The Korean Medical Association, an influential grouping of doctors, urged the government to temporarily halt all inoculation programmes to allay public concerns and ensure the vaccines were safe.
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.
Comment: That depends on what they consider to be toxic substances, because a number of the ingredients in vaccines are technically toxic and yet are considered safe because of the particular dosage.
KDCA data on Thursday showed at least seven of the nine people it investigated had underlying conditions.
Comment: Every year people with underlying conditions are given the flu vaccine, moreover they're usually targeted for the vaccine because they're considered 'vulnerable', and so there's clearly more to the story.
The free programme has proved controversial since it began last month. The launch was suspended for three weeks after the discovery that about 5m doses were kept at room temperature rather than being refrigerated, as required.
Officials said 8.3 million people had been inoculated since the programme resumed on 13 Octobter, 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 previous seasonal flu vaccinations was six in 2005, the Yonhap news agency said. Officials have said comparisons to previous years are difficult, 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 told Reuters in the capital, Seoul. "So I'm getting a shot somewhere else and will pay for it."
Comment: RT provides further details:
The number jumped from 12 deaths reported earlier on Thursday.
None of the people who died received the recalled doses.
Leading one to believe that perhaps it wasn't due to a refrigeration problem.
During a press conference on Thursday, Choi Dae-zip, president of the Korean Medical Association, requested that the flu shot campaign be put on hold until safety concerns about the vaccine could be properly addressed.
"The number of deaths has increased, but our team sees low possibility that the deaths resulted from the shots," Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said while addressing parliament. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo acknowledged that people were "concerned" about the vaccine but said that the program would continue.
And yet the director provides no alternative explanation.
A preliminary investigation into six of the deaths found no direct link to the jab they received.
Vaccine safety has become a hot button issue as governments and pharmaceutical companies rush to develop an effective coronavirus jab. Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency said on Wednesday that a volunteer who was participating in the Oxford University trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine had died of complications from Covid-19. However, the individual may have been part of a control group taking a placebo.
South Korean government to investigate spate of deaths linked to seasonal flu shots after toll rises to 30
"The authorities should thoroughly investigate the causal relationship between vaccinations and the deaths and make public the development transparently," Chung said on Friday at a meeting of the government's disaster and safety counter-measure group.
statement came after the death toll among people who recently received the vaccine more than doubled between Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon, then continued rising through the night. There were 25 deaths recorded as of 4pm Thursday, up from 12 earlier in the day, and the toll reached 30 at midnight.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), reportedly told South Korean lawmakers on Thursday that there was no direct link between the deaths and the vaccine. Of the first 25 deaths recorded, 22 involved people aged 60 or older, but a 17-year-old boy last week died two days after getting his flu shot.
It's those who are older and have comorbidities who are vulnerable to the otherwise 'harmless' coronavirus.
Chung called on the KDCA to investigate quickly provide the public with an explanation for the deaths "so that people can receive vaccination without anxiety."
It remains to be seen what has caused this apparent uptick in deaths but perhaps their attempt to avoid a 'twindemic' backfired. There could be a number of explanations, such as that perhaps rolling out greater vaccination campaigns are simply going to kill higher numbers of people; perhaps they overwhelmed the immune systems of the vulnerable; maybe there's a contraindication with this years chosen flu strain, and so on. It's also worth bearing in mind that the evidence suggests that any flu vaccine is likely to do more harm than good.
And check out SOTT radio's: