Fewer than 500,000 free flu vaccine shots still available: officials


Taipei, Nov. 3 (CNA) A government-funded program that provides free flu vaccine shots to vulnerable people has fewer than 500,000 shots still available, top health officials said Tuesday.

The program, which kicked off on Oct. 5, offered a total of 6.03 million flu shots to citizens and legal residents of Taiwan who fall into groups considered high-risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

These include minors, ranging in age from 6 months to senior high school; people over the age of 65; those with high-risk chronic, rare or serious diseases or severe injuries; expectant mothers; parents of babies under 6 months old; and those working in specific industries.

Healthy people between the ages of 50 and 64 were also initially offered free vaccine shots, but health officials decided to halt these shots on Oct. 16 amid unexpectedly high demand.

To date, over 4.74 million of the free flu shots have been administered, the CDC said on Tuesday, and excluding the amount that will be distributed to schools, fewer than 500,000 remain available.

The percentage of children under six years old who have received the vaccine, currently at 39.9 percent, is still lower than in past years, however, and CDC officials called on parents to have their children vaccinated as soon as possible.

Young children are at high risk of suffering serious complications related to the flu, including pneumonia, otitis media and meningitis, CDC physician Lin Yung-ching (林詠青) said at a press conference.

Infants aged 6 to 12 months old who receive the vaccine have 80 percent less chance of getting the flu, CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) added.

Also on Tuesday, Chuang said that both Singapore and Malaysia have resumed the administration of flu vaccines produced by two brands, South Korean company SK Bioscience and French company Sanofi.

Both initially halted the administration of the vaccines after more than 50 people died soon after receiving shots in South Korea.

After reviewing reports and data provided by South Korean health authorities, Singapore and Malaysia resumed offering the vaccines on Oct. 31 and Nov. 3, respectively, Chuang said.

Chuang also said at the press conference that it was unlikely the flu vaccine played a role in the recent death of a woman in her 70s who died shortly after receiving it.

According to Chuang, the woman suffered from chronic kidney issues, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and had a heart stent. She received the free flu vaccine on Oct. 19 and died six days later in her sleep.

Her cause of death has been ruled as heart failure, and two experts consulted by the CDC concurred, Chuang said.

So far this year, 238 people have reported adverse symptoms after receiving the flu vaccine, of which 67 said their symptoms were serious and eight have died.

However, the reports do not mean that the symptoms and deaths were caused by the flu vaccine, and the CDC has already ruled out the vaccine as the reason for the eight deaths.

In 2019 flu season, 118 people reported adverse symptoms they believed to be linked to the flu vaccine, and no deaths were reported as being possibly linked to the vaccine.

(By Chen Wei-ting and Chiang Yi-ching)

Enditem/AW



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