SARA ALTUWAIJRI WRITES — The flu season is fast approaching. The South Korean medical establishment took steps to prevent a severe epidemic by giving out flu vaccines, but this took a tragic turn when more than 1500 elderly people died seven days after receiving it last year. This year there have been 59 deaths of people who received the flu vaccine, and the number continues to rise.
Even so, South Korean health officials state that there is no link between these deaths and the flu vaccine. South Korea plans to continue vaccinating people at no cost. The country actually ordered 20% more vaccines due to concern over a possible “twindemic” — people catching both the flu and COVID-19. The director of the Korea Disease Control Agency, Jeong Eun-Kyung, stated, “After reviewing death cases so far, it is not the time to suspend a flu vaccination program since vaccination is very crucial this year, considering … the [latest] COVID-19 outbreak.”
Korean officials are trying to convince the public that vaccines are safe and that the benefits outweigh the side effects. A special fund was set up to provide free vaccines to children, pregnant women and seniors. By October 27,10 million South Koreans had been vaccinated. The ultimate goal is to vaccinate between 20-30 million of the country’s 51 million people.
Meanwhile, Singapore temporarily stopped two types of flu vaccinations because of the deaths in South Korea. The two flu vaccines that Singapore stopped are the SKYCellflu Quadrivalent, which is manufactured by South Korea’s SK Bioscience, and VaxigripTetra, manufactured by Paris-based Sanofi.
Fear of death in South Korea over the flu vaccine is causing anxiety within the country. Authorities are trying to ease concerns over the vaccine, particularly given that such skepticism could spread quickly to other countries as well.
Should South Korea suspend its flu vaccines to avoid more deaths? Or should it continue to campaign in favor of the vaccine? Above all, what is in the best interest of public health?