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.
Health authorities said they found no direct links between the deaths and the vaccines.
At least 22 of the dead, including a 17-year-old boy, were part of a campaign to inoculate 19 million teenagers and senior citizens for free, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
“The number of deaths has increased, but our team sees low possibility that the deaths resulted from the shots,” the agency’s director, Jeong Eun-kyeong, told parliament.
Protesters have swarmed downtown Boston and the state Capitol in the seven weeks since Republican Gov. Charlie Baker issued the first-of-its-kind requirement for students from preschool through college.As the Massachusetts mandate plays out, other states have weighed similar requirements while colleges throughout the country pile on their own orders to prevent flu patients from clogging doctors offices and emergency rooms alongside people infected with coronavirus this winter.
State laws across the country already require various vaccines for students and health care workers, while allowing a host of exemptions. Governments still have broad authority to implement new flu shot orders, potentially paving the way for mandatory inoculation against the coronavirus in a country where vaccine skepticismis spreading and President Donald Trump has resisted many public health protocols during the pandemic.
“This is a brave new experiment by the state of Massachusetts,” said Lawrence Gostin, who heads a university-based center on health law that serves as an official collaborating institute with the World Health Organization. “If it turns out to be a wholesale success, that should influence other states to go a similar route, not just with flu but with other vaccines. But if it causes a backlash and only marginal benefit, states might be hesitant to adopt that model in the future.”
Flu shots will now be required for all students in Massachusetts schools, from child care through colleges, the Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.
Students older than six months will have to be vaccinated by Dec. 31, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided.
“The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic,” officials wrote in an announcement of the new policy.
Students who are homeschooled are exempt from the policy, but health officials said students at elementary and secondary schools that are using a remote learning model are not exempt.
College or university students who are entirely off-campus will also be exempt from the mandate.