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Seoul to pay up to W30m each for post-COVID jab deaths

Sept. 6, 2023 - 15:33 By Son Ji-hyoung
A medical worker collects a sample from a woman at a temporary COVID-19 testing center in Daegu on Aug. 30. (Yonhap)

Lawmakers and government officials on Wednesday agreed to increase the amount of condolence money to families of those who died following COVID-19 vaccinations, regardless of whether the vaccination itself was confirmed to be the cause of death.

From September, families will be eligible to get up to 30 million won ($22,500) in condolence money if a family member dies within 90 days of having received the COVID-19 vaccine, even if the cause of death can not be identified in an autopsy. Since July 2022, 10 million won had been given if the death occurred within 42 days of having received the shot.

Families can now get up to 20 million won even if autopsies were not conducted.

Separately, families of those who died within three days of inoculation but had not been eligible for any government aid previously can now get at least 10 million won, while the amount could go up to 30 million won depending on the severity of the side effects.

These measures also apply retroactively, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

"Korea was able to achieve a higher inoculation rate compared with the rest of the world because people trusted the state and went to get vaccinated," Rep. Park Dae-chul of the ruling People Power Party said during a meeting between the ruling party and the government at the National Assembly.

"In this regard, it is the state's responsibility to tackle the blind spot in helping out those who fell victim to the vaccination policy."

This move comes as there have been growing calls to widen the scope of eligibility for those to receive either condolence money -- in which case the government does not necessarily admit liability -- or compensation as a result of the government's recognition of its liability.

The KDCA came under fire in a parliamentary meeting at the National Assembly on Aug. 25 over its recent decision to appeal to a court ruling that recognized the state's liability to compensate for injuries after the vaccination.

In July, the Seoul Administrative Court ordered the KDCA not to refuse compensation to the family of a man who suffered deadly brain injuries six days after the vaccination in October 2021, when he was 34.

The court ruling showed that, as COVID-19 vaccines earned the emergency use authorization instead of a full-fledged approval, an epidemiological causality between the vaccination and his death cannot be ruled out.

KDCA chief Jee Young-mee argued that the court ruling neglects the recommendation of a group of experts regarding the case, and that they would appeal. The comment drew a slew of criticism from lawmakers who said the decision could undermine public trust in the government.

People Power Party Rep. Park Dae-chul (left) and Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency chief Jee Young-mee (second from left) attend a meeting held at the National Assembly on Wednesday to discuss measures to boost financial support to bereaved family members of those who died after vaccination. (Yonhap)

So far, Korea has recognized 11 types of side effects caused by COVID vaccinations, including anaphylaxis, myocarditis and pericarditis, and those who died of such symptoms or suffered severe injuries were eligible for 480 billion won in monetary compensation plus funeral costs. Those suffering less severe injuries could get 55 percent of the compensation.

Korea also lists 15 other symptoms, including abnormal uterine bleeding, transverse myelitis and Bell's Palsy, as potential post-jab side effects. But those who suffered from any of the 15 were not eligible for compensation. Instead, they were only given condolence money of up to 100 million won in case of death.

Korea in July 2022 started to dole out condolence money to those who died after the vaccination whose cause of death was not identifiable, in line with an election campaign pledge by President Yoon Suk Yeol, who was inaugurated in May 2022.

Nearly 30 percent of some 96,000 complaints regarding vaccine side effect claims have been accepted by the government as of August. Among them were bereaved families of 83 people who died after vaccination following the government mandate. Eighteen of the 83 were eligible for compensation for their deaths, while the families of the remaining 65 received condolence money.

About 45 million people in Korea have been inoculated at least once since the mandatory vaccination scheme began in February 2021.

Korea has doubled the budget for compensation and financial support for those with vaccine side effect claims to 62.5 billion won in 2023.