South Korea is giving the seasonal flu vaccine to millions to ward off any complications with COVID-19.
At least 13 South Koreans have died after receiving flu shots in recent days, according to official and local media reports, fuelling doubts about vaccine safety even as authorities rule out a link and as global efforts to find a vaccine against COVID-19 intensify.
Health authorities said on Wednesday there were no plans to suspend the programme to inoculate approximately 19 million people for free after a preliminary investigation into six deaths found no direct connection with the vaccine they had received.
No toxic substances had been found in the vaccines and at least five of the six people investigated had underlying conditions, officials said.
Officials have reported nine deaths following flu vaccinations and the Yonhap news agency reported a further four on Thursday.
The deaths, including a 17-year-old boy and a man in his 70s, come just a week after the vaccination programme for teenagers and senior citizens was restarted on October 13.
Programme on hold
The programme was suspended for three weeks after it was discovered that some five million doses, which need to be refrigerated, had been exposed to room temperature while being transported to a medical facility.
South Korea’s vaccines come from a variety of sources.
Manufacturers include local drug makers GC Pharma, SK Bioscience and Il-Yang Pharmaceutical Co, along with France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline. Distributors include LG Chem and Boryung Biopharma, a unit of Boryung Pharm.
GC Pharma, LG Chem, SK Bioscience and Boryung declined to comment. Il-Yang Pharmaceutical, Sanofi and GSK could not immediately be reached for comment.
South Korea has extended its seasonal vaccine programme this year to avoid any potential COVID-19 complications and overburdening hospitals during the winter.
The country has reported more than 25,500 cases of the coronavirus, keeping the disease in check through a robust contact-tracing and testing regime and physical-distancing measures, as the world rushes to develop an effective vaccine against the disease.
Officials said 8.3 million people have been inoculated with the free flu vaccine since it resumed on October 13, with about 350 cases of adverse reactions reported.
The highest number of deaths linked to the seasonal flu vaccination was six in 2005, according to Yonhap. Officials have said it is difficult to make comparisons to previous years because of the greater numbers of people taking the vaccine this year.
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