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Millions will get free flu vaccines from next week

Medical staff, workers in disease control and the military will be first

Oct 22,2009
Free A(H1N1) influenza vaccines will be given to 17.2 million people including medical staff, pregnant women, kids, senior citizens and the military starting on Oct. 27, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

Around 32 million of the rest of the country will get shots, which they will have to pay for, from next January at the earliest.

The number of state-funded free vaccines will be the largest in history.

The ministry said the aim of the scheme is to “ease anxiety over the new flu amid the rapid spread of the disease and increase in the death toll.” As of yesterday, more than 10,000 Koreans have contracted the disease and 20 have died.

Medical staff, excluding dentists and Oriental doctors, public workers involved in disease control and some military personnel will be the first beneficiaries. Elementary, middle and high school students will be vaccinated next, from November until early January, at their respective schools. Children aged between six months and six years as well as pregnant women will get their shots starting in mid December, while people aged over 65 and patients with chronic diseases will be vaccinated between January and February.

Pregnant women due to give birth between late October and early December won’t receive the vaccine.

According to Lee Jong-ku, head of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the free vaccination is not mandatory. The shot will be free if people in the designated categories get it at public health centers, but they must pay fees of 15,000 won ($13) if they go to private hospitals.

Since the vaccine against the A(H1N1) virus has been developed very recently, clinical tests have yet to be administered as frequently as other flu vaccines have, according to the disease center. For this reason, the center has warned people to be more cautious about their health condition before they seek the shot.

As with other vaccines, it takes between 10 and 14 days for the person to acquire immunity, according to health officials. Up to 12 million doses will have been produced domestically by the end of this year. Some three million doses will come from GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical firm, early next year, according to Lee. Additional doses of up to 20 million will be supplied by February.



By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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