South Korea flu shot deaths rise to 13, further fuels vaccine doubts

At least 13 South Koreans have died after receiving flu shots in recent days, according to official and local media reports, fueling 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 program to vaccinate approximately 19 million people for free after a preliminary investigation into six deaths found no direct connection with the drug they had received.

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 (KDCA), told parliament.

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South Korea ordered 20 percent more flu vaccines this year to avoid what it calls a “twindemic” of people with flu developing potential COVID-19 complications, and overburdening hospitals during the winter.

“I understand and regret that people are concerned about the vaccine,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said on Thursday, while confirming the free programme would continue.

“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,” he added.

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.

It is also offering a paid vaccine programme which, combined with the free programme, aims to ensure about 30 million of the country’s 52-million population are inoculated. Under the paid programme, the purchaser can select the vaccine provider from a larger pool of manufacturers.

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