south korea vaccine deaths
© Reuters / Jung Yeon-je
A nursing home worker in Seoul is shown last week receiving South Korea's first Covid-19 vaccination shot.
South Korea finished its first week of rolling out long-awaited Covid-19 inoculations in the country with thousands of suspected adverse reactions to AstraZeneca's vaccine, seven of which resulted in deaths.

The number who died after the jab rose by four in the past two days, according to a report on Saturday by South Korea's Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), which is investigating the incidents. Vaccines were administered to more than 296,000 people, or about 0.6 percent of the country's population, during the first week of the rollout.

South Korea has reported more than 2,800 adverse reactions from Covid-19 vaccines, but only 24 of those cases were deemed severe, including the seven that resulted in death. All 24 severe cases involved people who received the AstraZeneca jab, which was the first vaccine approved for use in South Korea.

The vast majority of the doses that have been administered thus far are the AstraZeneca vaccine. Seoul also has a contract to receive millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, but large-scale shipments aren't scheduled to begin until next month. About 5,000 Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have been given in South Korea thus far, with none reported to have caused a severe adverse reaction.

South Korea generally has some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and it boasts some of the most effective Covid-mitigation efforts. But the country has been slow to start administering vaccines, reportedly because officials believed their Covid-19 successes gave them the luxury of focusing on safety over speed.

South Korea has reported more than 92,000 Covid-19 cases among its 52 million population, and only 1,632 deaths as of Saturday. By comparison, the UK, which has a population of about 67 million, has had more than 4.2 million cases and 124,000 deaths.

But South Korea suffered a vaccine scare last fall, when at least 83 people died shortly after taking seasonal flu shots. The KDCA said it found no evidence that any of those deaths were caused by the shots. Unlike the serious allergic reactions allegedly linked to the Covid-19 vaccine, there were no reports of anaphylactic shock resulting from the flu jabs.

Most of the people who died after taking the seasonal flu shots were elderly and had underlying medical conditions. At least the first few deaths following the Covid-19 vaccine involved people who were elderly, had underlying medical conditions or both.

"We're really talking about people who are heavily affected by very severe underlying diseases . . .," Dr. David Kwak of Soonchunhyang University Hospital said on Thursday in an Arirang News interview. "We have to take into consideration the severity of the underlying conditions they had before receiving the vaccination."