Despite fifty-nine people reportedly dying after receiving a flu shot in South Korea, health officials there say the vaccinations will continue as scheduled because no link was found between the vaccine and fatalities.
However, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has said that a separate investigation will be launched to take a closer look at thirteen of the fifty-nine deaths. The average age of those who died was seventy-four, but one of the victims was a seventeen-year-old boy from Incheon.
“There is no causal relationship between death and the vaccine, so we decided not to consider discontinuing use,” the KDCA said in a statement.
The agency’s director, Jung Eun-kyeong, said in a media briefing that the committee’s review of the reported deaths concluded that the chance of having a connection to the vaccines is “assessed to be very low.”
“At this stage, we don’t believe reexamining the vaccines or suspending the vaccinations is in order,” she said.
Last week, the Korean Medical Association recommended that vaccinations should be stopped for a week.
The KDCA noted that the country has seen similar small spikes in deaths in the past following flu vaccinations. Last year, about 1,500 people aged sixty-five and over died within seven days after receiving a flu shot.
“This is the number of people who died after vaccination, regardless of the vaccination causality,” Jung said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged the public to stay calm and showed his support of the findings.
“Please trust the health authorities to review the conclusions and presentations made with experts,” he said in a media briefing.
“It is confirmed that there is no direct causal relationship between death and vaccination as a result of examinations and comprehensive judgments such as autopsy on cases reported so far.”
As of Sunday, roughly 1,200 people in the country have reported experiencing side effects after getting the flu shot, according to public health authorities. More than 9.4 million people have already received the flu shot since the vaccination program started in September.
Earlier this month, the KDCA culled more than one million doses of the flu vaccine over improper handling or contamination. The agency conducted a joint inspection with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and came to a conclusion that the breaches did not compromise the safety or efficacy of the vaccines.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.