|People wait for flu vaccine shots that they opted to pay for at a public medical clinic in Gwangju, Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Kim Se-jeong
A flu vaccine crisis is looming after the government's temporary halt of a free vaccination program created panic among the public, Wednesday, with people rushing to pay for flu shots nationwide.
Pediatric clinics were especially busy dealing with parents asking about paying for flu shots for their children.
Other clinics were also busy fielding similar inquiries, with some seeing people queuing to pay for vaccinations.
The government suspended its free program after its supply was subject to inappropriate storage temperatures during transit.
This year, the government obtained 29.5 million flu vaccine doses, among which 19 million were allocated for the free shot program for children, pregnant women and the elderly. The remainder have to be paid for at medical clinics which charge between 10,000 won and 40,000 won.
About 5 million doses of the free vaccine were suspected of being inactivated after being exposed to room temperatures during distribution. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) is currently testing all of the distributed vaccine doses to see if they're still active.
The process is expected to take around two weeks and some observers believe that a panic could happen if all 5 million have to be destroyed.
In response, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip ― who is in charge of COVID-19 pandemic countermeasures ― promised that 1an additional 1.05 million residents on government financial support programs and the disabled will be able to get free flu shots. "We'll make sure these people get the shots. We've got the budget secured for that through National Assembly," he said.
On Wednesday, the CEO of Shinsung Pharm that is responsible for distribution of the influenza vaccines acknowledged responsibility.
"It was the company's fault," Kim Jin-mun was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency. The government and company are currently investigating how the incident happened, and the National Assembly has also decided to call Kim to give testimony at an interpellation session scheduled for Oct. 8.
This year, flu shots are in high demand.
The government is recommending people to get the vaccinations out of concerns that those who have to be hospitalized due to influenza will stretch general health resources and increase pressure on healthcare workers who are already overworked due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, since symptoms are similar to those for COVID-19, testing centers are likely to be overrun when the flu season starts.
Meanwhile, the KCDA reported 110 new COVID-19 infections for Tuesday, pushing up the total number of cases to 23,216, with a death toll of 388. The daily total went back up over 100 after three straight days of double digit increases.
Vice Minister Kim was positive about the overall situation but said it will be a while until current quarantine measures are lifted.
"We believe a sudden outbreak as seen recently in the Seoul metropolitan area is not likely recur in the immediate future as things are under control. However, it will take time and effort before the quarantine measures are lifted further there are still many potential dangers."