|A citizen gets a flu shot at a hospital in Seoul, Friday, amid growing concerns over their safety following the recent deaths of more than 30 people who received vaccinations. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
The government and a doctors' association have offered differing opinions on seasonal flu shots amid an increasing number of deaths being reported of people who received the vaccinations, aggravating the confusion among the public.
While the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) is maintaining its earlier position that the free shot program should proceed to prevent a potential "twindemic" of COVID-19 and the flu this winter, the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has urged the government to suspend the program until the cause of the recent deaths are clarified.
Since a teenage boy in Incheon died after getting a flu shot, Oct. 16, at least 36 deaths have been reported across the country as of 1 p.m. Friday, according to the KDCA. Most of the fatalities were among the elderly.
Despite growing fears over the flu shots, the health authorities reaffirmed that the state-led flu shot program will continue, citing that no direct links between the people's deaths and the vaccinations have been found yet.
"It is inappropriate to suspend the flu shot program, considering the appropriate time for vaccination," KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said during an annual audit at the National Assembly, Thursday, raising the need to get vaccinated, citing that about 3,000 deaths related to flu complications are reported annually.
The government has been pushing to provide free flu shots for some 19 million people, or 37 percent of the country's population, this year, including children and adolescents aged from six months to 18 years, pregnant women and those aged 62 and above amid growing concerns over the twindemic.
The KDCA believes that people should get a flu shot no later than early November, considering that the influenza season could arrive later that month.
"Though the number of deaths has recently increased, there is a low possibility that the deaths resulted from the vaccines," Jeong said. "We are working to find out the cause of deaths through autopsies. It may take about two weeks."
On the other hand, the doctors' association asked the government to suspend the program for about a week until Oct. 29, saying the cause-and-effect relationship between the deaths and the flu shots was still unclear.
"Deaths after vaccinations have increased, but the cause has yet to be found in any cases," KMA President Choi Dae-zip said in a news conference. "The government needs to take time to find out the cause of the recent deaths and ease the people's concerns."
Jung Ki-suck, a professor of pulmonology at Hallym University, offered a similar view, saying that the flu shot program should be suspended until the results of the investigation come out.
But the Korean Vaccine Society said in a statement that children and adolescents, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses should get flu shots due to concerns over a twindemic.
The KDCA said it would suspend the program immediately if any problems with the vaccines are proven scientifically.