|Medical workers prepare to give flu shots at a building of the Korea Association of Health Promotion in Seoul, Monday, as medical institutions across the country began a free vaccination program for senior citizens 70 years of age or older. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
An increasing number of parents here are expressing concerns over the death of a 17-year-old high school student in Incheon two days after receiving the seasonal flu vaccine.
The quality of the flu vaccine, which needs to be refrigerated, has already been in question after several shipments were discovered to have been stored at room temperature. Additionally, white particles were found last week in vaccine samples at a public health center in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province. Consequently, many parents have already been reluctant to let their children get the flu shot.
Although the cause of the teen's death has yet to be determined, the flu vaccine project may be halted once again this year if the cause of death is found to be related to the vaccine.
Concerns remain over the flu season coinciding with another wave of COVID-19.
"I was supposed to get my four-year-old boy a flu shot last week, but every hospital said they didn't have the vaccine, so I was planning to get one this week. But I heard the news about the high school student who died last night, and now I am too frightened to get him the vaccine," said Lim Yi-young, 34, living in Songpa-gu, Seoul.
"I think I'm not going to have him get the flu shot for a while. Considering the series of safety problems from the incident during shipment to the death of the boy, I wonder why I should be so anxious about the government's annual free flu shot program, especially this year."
Jung Eun-kyeong, chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said a total of 353 cases of abnormal reactions have been reported so far this year after the vaccination program started.
The student received the free vaccination at a private medical institution at noon on Oct.14, and died two days later on the morning of Oct. 16, according to the KDCA. On Tuesday, a 78-year-old woman was also found dead in Gochang County, North Jeolla Province, one day after she received a flu shot.
Experts say it is very rare for a flu vaccine to lead to death.
"It is highly unlikely that he died from the side effects of the vaccine," Eom Joong-sik, an infectious disease professor at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, said during an MBC radio show, Tuesday. "We need to see the autopsy results first because we are not at the stage of being able to say that the boy's death and the flu vaccine are not related."
Eom said it is not comfortable for him to speculate about the case before the cause of death is determined out of consideration for the bereaved family. "We have to wait for the autopsy results," he said.