South Korea deaths 'not linked' to mass flu vaccine campaign, says health agency

Louise Watt
·2-min read
A nurse holds a flu shot vaccine at Gospel Ilsan Hospital in Goyang, South Korea - SeongJoon Cho /Bloomberg 
A nurse holds a flu shot vaccine at Gospel Ilsan Hospital in Goyang, South Korea - SeongJoon Cho /Bloomberg

Health authorities in South Korea have concluded that the deaths of more than 100 people were not caused by a seasonal flu jab, allaying fears of a major setback to an unprecedented national vaccination campaign currently underway.

The government launched the drive in September to inoculate some 30 million people – more than half the country’s population - against the flu this year to avoid outbreaks of the winter illness amid the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

But reports of 108 people dying shortly after receiving flu jabs raised concerns about their safety among the public and some doctors. 

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Saturday that an investigation showed there were “no causal links” between the flu vaccination and death in at least 107 of the cases, the country’s Yonhap news agency reported. 

Autopsies on at least some of that group found they had cardiovascular, cerebrovascular or other serious health conditions that could account for their deaths.   

The agency is still looking into one of the deaths, but said there was no need for “a re-approval of vaccines in question or the suspension of the state vaccination program.”

In a bid to avoid its health system being overstretched by multiple outbreaks of illnesses, Seoul is planning to give 19 million free flu jabs to children, pregnant women and citizens aged 62 and over.

Concerns about the safety of the flu shot soared following the deaths of dozens of people after they received the injection. Most were in their 70s or 80s but at least one was reported to be a teenager. 

The government pressed ahead with its flu inoculation programme, however, even as an influential grouping of doctors called for it to be halted to allay public concerns and ensure the vaccines were safe.

As of Friday, more than 13 million people have received flu jabs, according to Yonhap. 

In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the government has also banned New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

"Year-end events and parties hosted by hotels, party rooms, guest houses and other accommodation facilities will be banned outright," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun