People are rushing to get their influenza vaccination. That is totally understandable. We have been warned that trying to cope with two different upper respiratory tract infections this winter could be double trouble. No one wants to fight COVID-19 and the flu! There is also the suggestion that a flu shot might provide some immunity against SARS-CoV-2. You can read about this intriguing discovery at this link. But people in South Korea are concerned about news reports of flu shots linked to deaths. What’s the story?
Influenza Vaccines in South Korea:
First there were reports that nine people died in South Korea not long after getting their annual flu shots. The public health authorities there said it was a coincidence. They could find no direct link between the vaccination and the deaths. That was on October 21, 2020.
On October 22, the BBC reported this:
“South Korean authorities have sought to reassure people as the number who have died after being vaccinated against seasonal influenza rose to 13.
“The doctor leading an inquiry into the deaths has said he does not believe the vaccine and fatalities are connected.”
More Reports of Flu Shots Linked to Deaths:
“South Korean officials refused on Thursday to suspend a seasonal influenza inoculation effort, despite growing calls for a halt, including an appeal from a key group of doctors, after the deaths of at least 25 of those vaccinated.”
“Four dozen people in South Korea have died after recently receiving their seasonal flu shots, but health officials there say the deaths were not related to the vaccinations.”
The next headline suggested that flu deaths linked to deaths were “coincidental.” (This Week in Asia / Health & Environment, Oct. 27, 2020)
“South Korean officials are scrambling to contain widespread public panic sparked by news reports of deaths thought to be linked to influenza vaccines, with President Moon Jae-in urging calm and saying any link was merely coincidental.
“Over the past two weeks, 59 post-vaccination deaths have been reported, mostly involving those in their 60s or older with pre-existing health conditions.
“Alarmist news headlines since the first death was reported on October 16 have deterred many people from getting vaccinated, and the Korea Medical Association recommended a temporary suspension of the flu shots.”
Guillain-Barré in Taiwan After a Flu Shot:
Then we read about a case of Guillain-Barré syndrome linked to a flu shot in Taiwan. A 51-year-old man ended up in the ICU after being diagnosed with this rare neurological condition.
The immune system starts attacking nerves and can lead to paralysis. It has been occasionally been linked to influenza vaccines. To refresh your memory, there was an outbreak of Guillain-Barré syndrome following flu shots in 1976. This was during a time when people were worried about a potential swine flu epidemic.
Singapore and Flu Shots:
Singapore has responded to the news from South Korea and Taiwan by temporarily halting use of two of the vaccines: one is from SK Bioscience SKYCellflu Quadrivalent. The other is Sanofi Pasteur’s VaxigripTetra. That’s despite the fact that there have been no deaths reported in Singapore.
The Latest Update on Flu Shots Linked to Deaths:
As of October 29, 2020, This Week in Asia / Lifestyle & Culture reports this update from South Korea:
• “The head of the Disease Control and Prevention Agency received a flu jab on Thursday as part of the government’s attempt to bolster public trust in the vaccines
• “A total of 71 people have died after getting flu shots, although the government said there was no link between the inoculations and the deaths”
People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
We have no idea whether the deaths in South Korea are linked to this year’s influenza vaccination or are purely coincidental. We hope this controversy is quickly resolved. As far as we know, there is no reason for people in the U.S. to be concerned, but we will be paying close attention to any reports of adverse reactions from this year’s flu shots.