Five South Koreans have died in the last two days after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Astra-Zeneca, sparking a presidential response and contributed to rising global concerns about the dose.
However, the presidential spokesperson said President Moon Jae-in may well take an Astra-Zeneca shot before heading for the G7 summit in the United Kingdom this summer?
Korean health authorities are carrying out an investigation, and there is no direct scientific evidence yet showing that the deaths are directly linked to the vaccinations.
Still, the news is likely to be a blow to AstraZeneca, which has already suffered reputational blows in terms of its vaccine’s effectiveness compared with certain counterparts.
It has also faced production bottlenecks which led to a political spat between the EU and UK, and has proven unpopular as a vaccine choice in Germany and Switzerland.
Yonhap newswire quoted health officials as saying one 52-year-old patient at a long-term care hospital died on Thursday morning, two days after being vaccinated.
The second patient, aged 58, died on Thursday at a different long-term care hospital, less than a day after receiving a shot. The patient’s pre-existing conditions included a myocardial infarction and diabetes.
The third death was of a woman in her 20’s who passed away early Thursday after receiving the jab on Tuesday. She was also a patient at yet another long-term care hospital, though her pre-existing conditions have not yet been made public.
Thursday’s three deaths came on a day when national newspapers carried on their front pages reports of two deaths on Wednesday.
None of the patients was resident in the same facility. Health authorities have begun an investigation to discover if the deaths were related to the vaccinations.
Deaths soon after vaccinations can result from allergic reactions, but with no similar spates of deaths being reported from the Astra-Zeneca vaccine elsewhere, another expert advised that local and global issues need to be disentangled.
He also noted that production could be a factor, given that the vaccine is manufactured under license in multiple locations. Both India and Thailand are licensed to produce the vaccine in Asia.
The Astro-Zeneca jab has not yet been approved for the country with the leading vaccination program, the USA, but is being massively administered elsewhere, notably in the UK, which has inoculated about 20 million people with either the Astra-Zeneca or Pfizer vaccines.
The Anglo-Swiss company’s vaccine, created in collaboration with Oxford University, is currently one of the world’s top three vaccines.
Its price is significantly lower than that of the leading competitor, Pfizer, and it does not require the kind of deep refrigeration that the Pfizer product requires, making it more deploy-able and more economical.
Last October, fears – which have since subsided – were sparked after a Brazilian clinical trial volunteer died after receiving the Astra-Zeneca vaccine.
As of clinical trial data gathered in January, the Pfizer vaccine had a 95% efficiency rate, the Moderna vaccine had a 94.1% rate, while Astra-Zeneca lagged well behind with 70%.
The vaccine’s tribulations have continued since. It suffered a troubled rollout after supply-chain bottlenecks and related production problems resulted in a political tug-of-war and accusations of “vaccine nationalism” between the UK and the EU.
It is not yet known if the deaths in South Korea will have a broader impact on the vaccine’s use locally or globally. A German source, who has connections with his country’s health authorities, said that the Astra-Zeneca situation is endangering the entire world’s vaccinations.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point Healthcare News 2021.