A vaccine scandal in China causes an outcry

The latest in a long line of medical abuses reveals widespread corruption, dismal lack of supervision and harmful distortions in the public-health system

The Economist

WANG SHENGSHENG, a lawyer who lives in Guangzhou in southern China, is the mother of a newborn baby. The province’s health officials advised her, she says, to have her baby vaccinated not only against tuberculosis and hepatitis-B (which is mandatory) but also against chickenpox, hepatitis-A, meningitis and other diseases, which is not. She did so, and got a hepatitis-A vaccination herself. A few days later, China’s latest medical scandal erupted. The country, it turns out, has been using millions of doses of outdated or improperly stored vaccines for the diseases not covered by the mandatory programme.

Ms Wang did not take this lying down. Shocked by the lack of information about the health implications of receiving faulty vaccines, and concerned that she may have unknowingly endangered her child, she joined 12 other lawyers in writing an open letter to the national government demanding a national investigation and full disclosure into what is fast becoming China’s worst medical scandal since 2008. That year, America’s Food and Drug Administration found that a Chinese manufacturer had been adulterating heparin, an anti-blood-clotting drug. There was also a huge public outcry in China that year when it was revealed that more than 300,000 children had fallen ill and six had died after drinking tainted milk.

The vaccine scandal first came to light a year ago when police in Shandong, an eastern province, arrested a pharmacist and her daughter. Allegedly, they had been buying vaccines that were out of date or about to expire and selling them to hospitals and clinics across the country. “We found the storage space to be a mess,” one of the policemen said. “There were no proper refrigeration facilities.”

At first, the government’s reaction was sluggish to non-existent. The story did not come to widespread notice until March, when a website called The Paper began looking into the case, and the police finally made public what had been going on. Many users of social media denounced the authorities for the scandal and for their slow reaction. China Daily, a state-owned newspaper, said officials had no one to blame except themselves. The open letter from the lawyers in Guangzhou demanded the government check all its records so people could find out whether they had been vaccinated with an out-of-date batch. It also asked who would bear the cost of re-vaccination and what would be done for anyone harmed as a result of receiving the dodgy vaccines.     [FULL  STORY]