Two long-term care hospital patients die after receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Posted on : 2021-03-04 17:12 KST Modified on : 2021-03-04 17:12 KST
The KDCA to conduct an epidemiological study
Caption 4-1: The first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is being administered Tuesday at a health care center in Seoul (Yonhap News)
Caption 4-1: The first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is being administered Tuesday at a health care center in Seoul (Yonhap News)

Two long-term care facility patients in South Korea died following inoculation with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

With five to seven or more patients dying per month on average at the hospitals where the deaths occurred, it was not possible to conclude that the vaccine was responsible for them. Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Jung Eun-kyeong said, “While deaths [following vaccination] have been reported in countries around the world, there has not been any case of a confirmed cause-and-effect relationship with a vaccine.”

The COVID-19 preventive vaccination response team announced Wednesday that 63,644 additional people had received inoculations the day before, bringing the cumulative total up to 88,427. To date, 85,904 have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, while 1,524 have received another vaccine developed by Pfizer.

The number of reported adverse reactions rose by 53 to 209, 204 of which involved minor symptoms. But in addition to the two reported deaths, there were also three reports of “anaphylactoid” reactions.

“With ‘anaphylactoid’ [reactions], symptoms such as breathing distress and decreased blood pressure are milder than in anaphylaxis [a severe acute allergic reaction that is the focus of most concern], and the mechanism is substantially different,” explained Eom Joong-sik, a professor of infectious diseases at Gachon University Gil Medical Center.

The two people who died were a 50-something patient at a long-term care hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, and a 60-something patient at another long-term care hospital in Pyeongtaek. The Goyang patient was inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine at around 9:30 am on Tuesday and began complaining of chest pain, nausea and breathing distress 11 hours later. The Goyang patient died at 7 am Wednesday.

The Pyeongtaek patient received the AstraZeneca vaccine at around 2:30 pm Saturday and began exhibiting symptoms such as fever and generalized muscle pain 33 hours later. The Pyeongtaek patient died at 10 am Wednesday.

The KDCA is currently conducting an epidemiological study in conjunction with Gyeonggi Province and plans to work with experts to analyze a possible causal link.

Jung Eun-kyeong, who heads the vaccination response team, explained, “We will be checking to see whether similar symptoms were observed in patients who were administered vaccines with the same manufacturing number, and conducting a general study on whether there is some other possible explanation for the cause of their deaths.”

According to information shared by the vaccination response team that day, 205 deaths had been reported among the 6.9 million total people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK as of Feb. 14. With the Pfizer vaccine, the number was 197 out of 8.3 million people. In none of the cases was a causal relationship established with the vaccine.

During the second half of last year, a total of 110 deaths were reported in South Korea after administration of flu vaccines — 55 times higher than the two deaths recorded the year before. The reports raised fears over the safety of the vaccines, but no cases of a causal relationship were ever established.

For this reason, seven South Korean researchers, including Gachon University professor of preventive medicine Chung Jae-hoon, advised in a paper titled “Estimating Reference Points for Conditions Potentially Related to Vaccine Side Effects” — recently published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science — that annual natural incidence rates should be predicted for anaphylaxis and 10 other conditions believed to be associated with vaccines.

Adopting these rates as a standard will help to avoid the error of hastily concluding that the conditions are side effects of vaccination, they suggested.

“If the reported number of suspected adverse reactions to vaccines or the monthly incidence rate falls within the scope of our predictions, [it can be concluded that] they occurred naturally rather than being an adverse reaction to the vaccine,” Chung said.

“In the case of post-vaccination deaths that occur in long-term care facilities and senior care centers, which are places where [residents] spend the last years of their lives, there is typically another clear cause of death, and it is very likely not to be due to vaccine side effects,” he suggested.

Jung Eun-kyeong said, “I hope that the public does not become overly alarmed or avoid getting vaccinated.”

“For the sake of public trust, I plan to be transparent in sharing information about the detailed examination and expert review of the reported cases,” she added.

By Choi Ha-yan, staff reporter

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