Waiting for a vaccine, it is being seen as the ultimate weapon, the only way to end this pandemic. But an incident in South Korea has triggered a scare. Nine South Koreans have died after they got flu shots, bringing fears of vaccine back into focus. Vaccine denial and anti-vax movement are not new but the pandemic has strengthened it and that’s not good. South Korea’s fight against the coronavirus is proving to be an uphill battle. The country has faced multiple waves of spikes in fresh infections. Now, a vaccine program has triggered panic. Nine people who were administered flu shots in the country have died. The South Korean government inoculating its population with flu vaccines. 30 million people are being given flu vaccines for free. That’s because winter is coming. They don’t want flu patients to add any burden to the health system.
But why are flu shots killing people? So far, authorities haven’t found any evidence that the deaths happened due to the flu vaccine but people are worried. This is just the kind of story that scientists want to avoid. Anything that casts doubt on vaccines will push people away from them. Last year World Health organization named vaccine hesitantly as one of the top ten threats to global health. In 2019, anti-vaxxers were the fringe. In 2020, they have come to the mainstream as the pandemic has fueled their resurgence. Some of the world’s worst-affected countries have the highest number of vaccine deniers. A study in the United States found that one out of three Americans doesn’t want to get a shot. Around the world, the vaccine deniers are growing in number. According to the study published in the Lancet, confidence in vaccines has declined in countries like Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and South Korea.
“I’m worried about the situation, I’ll wait until the time that we can confirm the vaccine is safe. Since we wear a mask due to COVID-19 and it can also prevent the flu.” – Citizen of South Korea
A volunteer taking part in a clinical trial of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil has died but the country’s health authorities said the trial is going to continue. Oxford University which is a partner in the developers of the vaccine has confirmed that it would keep testing in that it has no concerns about the safety of the trial. It’s not clear whether the person receiving the vaccine is the placebo but reports cite a source familiar with the matter as saying that if it had been the real vaccine then the trial would have been halted.
South Korea has reported more than a hundred new cases of COVID-19. The first time that’s happened in a week. These cases are mostly from hospitals, nursing homes, and social gatherings. South Korea on Thursday reported 121 new COVID-19 cases according to the Korea disease control and prevention agency. 104 cases were domestic infections. The first time locally transmitted cases have gone above 100 since September 24th. The other 17 cases were from overseas. This brings a total number of coronavirus infections across the nation to the other 5500.
Three more deaths were also reported bringing the death toll to 453. Thursday’s figure is the second time the daily figures have exceeded a hundred since the country eased its social distancing measures last week. On October 12th, social distancing guidelines were revised to level one. The lowest level in the three-tier system following a downward trend in cases. However, there have still been cluster infections. Starting Monday, the country is conducting tests on those related to such risk-prone facilities in the greater Seoul area to contain the spread of the virus. Health authorities are advising the public to refrain from social and family gatherings and to strictly follow the country’s social distancing measures.
“Coronavirus is more severe so I decided to get vaccinated for my children and family’s health. There are reports of deaths but I think coronavirus is a much more serious problem. So, I’m here to take care of my health.”– A patient before getting the vaccine.
More than 20 people who have gotten flu shots in South Korea have gotten very sick thereafter raising concerns about the vaccine but the health authorities say there is no evidence of a link and the vaccines will continue. Health authorities are investigating but they say so far, they haven’t found any link between the vaccine and death. The head of the Korea disease control and prevention agency, Cheung Gyeong at a Thursday hearing in the national assembly said that this year’s influenza vaccines are not toxic and that there is no link between them and the recent deaths.
This comes after growing concerns as several people across the country who got the vaccine died shortly after. The safety of the vaccine had already in the spotlight after half a million flu shots were recalled last month as they have been stored improperly. There is no confirmed evidence that the deaths were caused by the vaccine and some of the people who died had underlying health conditions. Anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction that can occur after vaccination was initially suspected on Wednesday as a possible reason for two of the deaths. But after a thorough review, health officials reported that the likelihood is very low. The government will continue to distribute flu vaccines and conduct further epidemiological investigations. Meanwhile, the Korean medical association is advising a temporary postponed of vaccinations for a week. South Korea is providing flu shots to the young and to senior citizens free of charge to reduce the burden on hospitals this winter amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 8 million people have received free flu shots so far.
Celebrity anti-vaxxers have only added to the crisis of credibility. Earlier this year, tennis star Novak Djokovic created a stir when he declared his opposition to a vaccine. He suggested that his return to tennis could be delayed if getting a coronavirus vaccine became mandatory to entertain our competitions. After that statement, Djokovic along with his wife tested positive for the coronavirus. But, what about South Korea? The deaths after flu shots haven’t triggered a large public campaign against the vaccine. Authorities see no reason to halt their program. But anti-vaxxers remain active on social media. Their campaigns are backed by big donors, aided by celebrities and the idea of freedom of choice. The fight for scientists who are pushing for mass vaccination programs will get tougher. Creating a vaccine will only be half the battle won.