Teens in South Korea Hesitate Over the Vaccine

John gets a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

On December 30, the people of South Korea woke to the news that a 16-year-old boy had died after getting two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The teen’s death has not been linked to the vaccine, but the news has caused alarm among young people here and their parents.

Controversy was also sparked when the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced the need for a youth vaccine pass. The policy would prevent young people who are unvaccinated from going to restaurants, libraries, and even after-school academies, or hagwons, which are an considered essential for academic success.   

As of January 10, only 39.8% of 12- to 14-year-olds in South Korea had been vaccinated. Korean officials are urging parents to get their children vaccinated, especially because of the presence of the highly-contagious Omicron variant. To date, nearly 6,500 people in South Korea have died from COVID-19.

“Unvaccinated students could become the vessel for spreading the virus,” South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a recent radio interview. 



Kevin Jeon, an eighth grader who lives in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has opted not to get the vaccine. When asked why, he said, “I don’t want to go through the side effects. I don’t think it’s safe yet.” 

But Kevin acknowledged that he may need to get vaccinated in order to attend a hagwon. “If the vaccines improve, I probably will get one,” he said.

Brian Lee, 13, has also decided against getting a vaccine. When asked why, he said, “My parents didn’t want me to.”

Still, many young people have been vaccinated. “I want to protect myself and others around me,” said Seung-Jae Yeom, 15. “I think it’s our responsibility to keep each other safe.”

When asked if he was worried about possible side effects, Seung-Jae said, “My entire family didn’t feel any effects, so I think I’m OK.”  

In response to heated debates among parents, the Seoul Administrative Court halted the vaccine pass policy.* The KDCA expressed concern over that ruling. Health officials continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine. Otherwise, they say, the risk of infection will continue to rise. 


* Update: The government of South Korea announced that it will implement the youth vaccine policy for students ages 12 to 18 starting on March 1, despite a court’s restraining order. As a result, the percentage of young people receiving at least the first dose of the vaccine reached 78.6% in mid-January. Adults in South Korea are already required to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test in order to enter public facilities. 



Photo courtesy of the author