Will flu vaccine mishandling lead to supply crisis?

26-Sep-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Concerns are growing over a possible shortage of seasonal influenza vaccines that could result in higher prices, following the distributor’s mishandling of some vaccine bottles.

Citizens here, who already suffered a face mask supply crisis earlier this year when the COVID-19 outbreak worsened, are expressing worries over the flu vaccine fiasco amid mounting fears of a so-called “twindemic” ? an overlap of flu season with a possible surge in coronavirus cases this fall and winter.

The government was planning to provide free flu shots for some 19 million people, or 37 percent of the country’s population, including children and adolescents aged from six months to 18 years, pregnant women and those aged 62 and above. The number of people entitled to free vaccinations increased from 13.8 million last year amid concerns over the public health crisis.

Those who are not entitled to free flu shots are required to pay about 40,000 won ($34) to receive a vaccination at a private hospital.

Adding to the woes, however, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced the temporary suspension of its free flu shot programme, Tuesday, citing that some vaccine bottles had been mishandled during the distribution process.

The KDCA said some of the roughly 5 million doses of flu vaccines were exposed to room temperature while being moved between vehicles. Inactivated vaccines should be stored in refrigerators. Exposure to room temperature could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause other side effects.

KDCA Commissioner Jung Eun-kyeong said the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety is conducting quality and safety tests on the exposed vaccines to see if they can still be administered to people.

“The tests will take about two weeks,” Jung said during a media briefing, noting that the government will decide on whether to dispose of the exposed vaccines or resume their use after those tests.

“We confirmed that 105 people had already received the exposed vaccines, so we are keenly monitoring their health,” she said.

She added that the government decided to resume the free flu shot programme for children under 12 and pregnant women, beginning Friday, noting that the vaccines to be used for this are not the ones exposed to room temperature.

Citizens are raising concerns that vaccine prices could rise if the government decides to dispose of the exposed vaccines as demand is increasing rapidly amid growing concerns over the “twindemic.”

According to officials in the pharmaceutical industry, additional production of flu vaccines for this year is almost impossible due to time constraints.

Even if the government decides to resume the use of the exposed vaccines, concerns still remain as some citizens are expressing distrust, questioning whether they were really safe.

Some of those who qualify to receive free flu shots have already appeared to opt for the paid vaccination, resulting in long queues at hospitals.

Kim Yoo-mi, 36, the mother of a five-year-old girl, said, “My daughter is entitled to the free flu shot, but I visited a hospital yesterday to get the paid vaccination with my daughter because I was not sure about the safety of the exposed vaccines.”

Health experts stressed the importance of flu vaccinations in bracing for the possibility of a severe flu season coinciding with a surge in COVID-19 cases, noting that it is not easy to distinguish COVID-19 from the flu because they share similar symptoms such as a sore throat and fever.

“If you have received a vaccination, you will need to go through only coronavirus testing when you have a fever. If not, you will need to go through both coronavirus and flu testing,” said Kim Woo-joo, a professor at Korea University Guro Hospital.



Category: Korea

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