|The health authorities said Saturday they will continue a free flu shots program despite dozens of recent deaths after vaccinations, as they found no link between vaccines and fatalities. Yonhap|
The health authorities said Saturday that they will continue a free influenza vaccination program despite dozens of recent deaths following the shots, as they have found no link between vaccines and the fatalities.
The number of deaths jumped to 48 as of 1 p.m., up from 36 the previous day, after the first suspected death was reported Oct. 16, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). About 80 percent of the deceased were in their 70s and 80s.
"We are not considering suspending the state-led free vaccination program at the moment, as interim autopsy results on 20 of those who died showed no direct link between their deaths and the vaccine," KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a briefing
The KDCA is closely monitoring the situation for any possible link between the vaccines and the deaths, given a total of 1,154 people have reported side effects after getting the shots this year, Jeong said.
The authorities will work with experts to find out what exactly caused the deaths of the people who received the flu shots, she said.
Jeong called on medical institutions to run a thorough medical check on senior citizens before giving them the shots.
The government has been running a free vaccination program to inoculate around 19 million people, including teenagers and senior citizens.
The program ― which was expanded this year in an effort to prevent the potential "twindemic" of COVID-19 and flu during the winter ― was joined by five major drug makers, including GC Pharma and Ilyang Pharmaceutical Co.
Health experts agree that people should get flu shots before the influenza season arrives here since more deaths could occur from serious complications triggered by the flu, such as pneumonia.
About 3,000 deaths related to complications are reported annually in South Korea.
Generally, the flu season arrives between the end of November and December. Considering that the vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, experts here recommend people get flu shots by mid-November.
However, experts are divided on whether people should get their shots "immediately" at this moment when more suspected deaths are being reported nationwide in a relatively short period of time.
Health organizations are divided on whether to continue the vaccinations in the coming weeks.
The Korean Medical Association (KMA) recommended the government consider postponing the program for about a week, but the Korean Vaccine Society insisted that inoculations need to be continued since no causal links between the vaccines and the recent deaths have been confirmed. (Yonhap)