|A medical staff at a public health center in Yangcheon District, Seoul, extracts AstraZeneca vaccine from a vial to a syringe, March 18. Yonhap|
Jitters linger over safety of AstraZeneca vaccine
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government decided Sunday to resume AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccinations except for people aged under 30, as public concern continues over the safety of the drug. The resumption comes four days after the government suspended inoculations for certain groups of people citing safety issues.
Due to concerns over potential blood-clotting side effects, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on people aged under 60, Wednesday, and temporarily called off plans to begin inoculations for school teachers and school nurses that were scheduled to begin Thursday.
But the agency announced the resumption of injections based on experts' opinions and a thorough review of the latest report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which found possible links between the vaccine and very rare cases of blood clots.
The KDCA stated that among the three blood-clotting cases reported in Korea, two did not have any causal links with the vaccine, while the other did not fall into the category of the EMA's definition of rare blood-clotting.
"With the public's safety as our top priority, we came to the conclusion that proceeding with the nationwide vaccination program is of utmost importance in reducing COVID-19 fatalities and curbing the spread of the virus," said KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong during a briefing held Sunday.
Inoculations will begin today for school nurses, special school teachers, residents and staff at facilities for the disabled as well as homeless shelters, in accordance with the government's initial plan. But people under 30 will be excluded.
|Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong speaks about potential benefits and harm of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a briefing held at the agency's headquarters in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Sunday. Yonhap|
The health authorities noted that people who received the first shot of the two-dose regimen will get a second shot regardless of their age if they did not experience any side effects related to blood clotting.
As the AstraZeneca vaccine has been under scrutiny following reports of rare blood clotting, several European countries suspended injections, only to reinstate them later with adjusted age limits.
Currently, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have allowed the inoculation of people aged over 60. France and Canada have allowed injections only on people aged 55 and above, while the UK restricted injections on people under 30, saying they will be offered an alternative vaccine.
The government's decision to carry on with the inoculations amid global safety concerns on certain age groups has increased jitters among recipients here who are next in line to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A medical staffer in her 50s at a nursing home in Seoul surnamed Park, said, "Although I didn't experience any serious side effects except flu-like symptoms, I feel nervous about getting the second shot after hearing recent news about blood clots."
Park received the first shot of the vaccine in early March.
"I understand that the government has decided to proceed with the plan in order to immunize as many people as possible, but suspending the plan and then restoring it in just a few days has made me nervous," said a school nurse in Gyeonggi Province who did not wish to be identified. She added that if she were given an opportunity to choose a vaccine, she would get a shot from Pfizer or Moderna instead.
As vaccine hesitancy may lead to a low participation rate in the nationwide immunization scheme, the KDCA reassured the public that it will continue to closely monitor adverse reactions through a rapid response system and urged the public to get the vaccine when it is their turn.