SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea’s forensic agency has found no links between a teenage boy’s death and a flu shot he had taken, the Yonhap news agency reported, as 11 more people linked to the vaccination programme died, taking the toll to 36.
The 17-year-old was among the first reported to have died during a government campaign to vaccinate about 30 million of a population of 52 million to prevent coronavirus complications.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said it would hold a meeting with vaccination experts on Friday (Oct 23) to review developments as the toll reached 36, up from 25 a day before, sparking calls from doctors and politicians for a halt to the programme.
Health authorities have refused to suspend the campaign citing a lack of evidence to suggest direct links between the deaths and the vaccines.
The National Forensic Service has conducted autopsies on some of the deceased and determined that the vaccine did not cause the 17-year-boy’s death, Yonhap said, citing police.
Both the forensic agency and police were not immediately reachable for comment.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressed condolences to the families of the deceased, calling for a thorough investigation to verify the exact cause of deaths.
“So far experts said there was low possibility that the shots and deaths were related but many citizens remain anxious,” he told a meeting.
At least 22 of the 25 confirmed cases, including the boy, received a free flu shot the government has allotted for about 19 million teenagers and senior citizens, while the other three paid for it. Seven of the nine people investigated had underlying conditions, the KDCA said.
The agency has not yet provided details about the 11 deaths reported overnight.
The rising death toll has fuelled debate about whether the programme should be suspended. The country’s largest grouping of doctors called for a halt until the safety of the vaccines is confirmed, while a major vaccine society said inoculation should continue as no relation to the deaths have been found.
ADVISED AGAINST SHOTS
Some local governments and district offices around the country have voluntarily advised residents against taking a flu shot or are considering suspending the programme.
The 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.
Ten people received products from SK Bioscience, five each from Boryung and GC Pharma, four from Sanofi and one from Korea Vaccine. There were no details about the latest 11.
KDCA director Jeong Eun-kyeong said on Thursday that vaccines would continue to be supplied but the government might consider suspending some products that have identification numbers matching batches manufactured at the same plant on the same day if more people die using them. One batch consists of around 150,000 doses.
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.
All four domestic firms declined to comment. Sanofi referred to the KDCA findings but said in a statement to Reuters that scientific assessments and monitoring were under way and that it would closely work with local health authorities.
South Korea ordered 20 per cent more flu vaccines this year to ward off what it calls a “twindemic” of concurrent major flu and Covid-19 outbreaks in winter.
The KDCA reported 155 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday midnight, for the second consecutive day the daily tally marked a triple-digit increase after largely hovering below 100 over the last two weeks. It brought the total infections to 25,698, with 455 deaths.
So far 8.3 million people had been inoculated since the programme began on Oct 13, with about 350 cases of adverse reactions reported, the KDCA said.