|Medical workers at Asan Medical Center receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at the hospital in Seoul, Friday. Courtesy of Asan Medical Center|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Medical experts have warned against excessive fears about the COVID-19 vaccine among patients with underlying health conditions, following several reported deaths after the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it may lead to vaccine hesitancy.
As of Friday, seven people with pre-existing health conditions had died after receiving a first shot of the vaccine, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The agency noted that they all had underlying conditions, such as cardiac disorders, diabetes, and cerebrovascular diseases.
While the authorities are looking into any possible link between the fatalities and the vaccine, the deaths have prompted some fear and anxiety among people with underlying health problems.
However, medical experts on chronic illnesses such as diabetes, rheumatic and respiratory diseases noted that the deaths should not be a reason for people to refuse or delay having the shot, as there has been no proven correlation between the deaths and the vaccine.
The Korean Diabetes Association issued a statement, Friday, advising diabetic people to participate actively in the vaccination program.
"Studies show that people with diabetes are more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and are more likely to suffer severe symptoms. Receiving the vaccine is an effective way of preventing infection," read the statement.
The Korean Academy of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases said, "The efficacy of the vaccine has been proven through multiple clinical trials, with only minor side effects rarely reported."
"Do not be swayed by unscientific false information," the academy said in a statement, urging patients with respiratory diseases to get inoculated in accordance with the government's vaccination schedule.
|A medical worker at Seoul National University Hospital receives a coronavirus vaccine from AstraZeneca at the hospital in Jongno, Seoul, Thursday. Joint Press Corps|
Another group of doctors, the Korean College of Rheumatology, issued a guideline for patients suffering from rheumatic diseases that are autoimmune disorders, also advising them to get vaccinated.
"Even for patients who are using immune suppressants for their rheumatoid disease, there is no risk of virus infection due to the coronavirus vaccine," read the guideline, adding that patients should get inoculated as long as they are not seriously allergic to ingredients in the vaccine.
Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon Medical University, echoed the sentiment saying, "Dying of natural causes has no correlation with the vaccine." He explained that there was a clear difference between "death after vaccination" and "death due to vaccination."
The health authorities plan to continue carrying out inoculations of patients with underlying health conditions, who are categorized as a priority group, as the advantages outweigh the drawbacks of not getting vaccinated.
"People with chronic diseases need to be vaccinated as they are more vulnerable to infection," said Cho Eun-hee, a KDCA official in charge of post-vaccination management, at a briefing, Thursday.
"In the case of seasonal flu vaccinations, for instance, patients with pre-existing health conditions are considered to be a top priority. This fact is because the benefits of vaccinating them are larger than those of not inoculating them," she added.
Since Korea kicked off its vaccination program, Feb. 26, 225,853 people across the country have been vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the KDCA. Among them, 221,944 got their first shots of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, while 3,909 received their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
The KDCA said that 1,578 abnormal reactions have been reported, among which, 1,558 were minor, such as headaches, fever, and vomiting. A small number of reactions were severe ― there have been 13 cases of anaphylactic shock and one seizure, alongside the six deaths. The latest death was not included in Thursday's data, the KDCA noted.