Following revelations of a scandal involving the distribution of $88 million worth of improperly refrigerated vaccines sold in 24 regions and provinces since 2010, authorities have announced that 357 officials have been implicated. Since the scandal was made public, parents have protested the lack of effective government oversight over vaccinations, many of which are mandated. In Beijing, close to 70 parents protested at the National Health and Family Planning Commission. Mimi Lau reports for the South China Morning Post:
The protests came after mainland authorities sacked and demoted 357 officials and arrested 202 suspects for their alleged involvement in a scandal in Shandong province, where a racket involving illegally traded vaccines worth 570 million yuan (HK$683.3 million) had thrived since 2010.
After nearly three hours of peaceful protest at the commission, the parents were told to address their grievances to the commission’s petition office.
Parents said they came from across the country but met each other while seeking medical treatment for their children in Beijing.
Yi Wenlong, 47, from Shanxi province, said 67 families signed a petition to take legal action against the commission for “turning a blind eye to poor monitoring of children’s vaccines”. [Source]
Worries about possibly contaminated vaccines have led to spreading concerns over the safety of the vaccination system in China, where food and health safety problems are common. Such fears have been exacerbated by media reports that questioned the safety of vaccines themselves—despite the fact that such reports had been scientifically refuted. Chris Buckley from The New York Times reports:
Now, the country’s immunization program faces a backlash of public distrust that critics say has been magnified by the government’s ingrained secrecy.
Song Zhendong, like many parents here, said he was reluctant to risk further vaccinations for his 10-month-old son.
“If he can avoid them in the future, we will not get them,” said Mr. Song, a businessman. “Why didn’t we learn about this sooner? If there’s a problem with vaccines for our kids, we should be told as soon as the police knew. Aren’t our children the future of the nation?”
The faulty vaccines have become the latest lightning rod for widespread, often visceral distrust of China’s medical system, and a rebuff to what many Chinese critics see as President Xi Jinping’s bulldozing, top-down rule. [Source]
The investigation into the illegal sale has revealed that close ties between local governments and vaccine vendors have created problems in the vaccine distribution system. The government is now proposing reforms to the system to establish procedures for oversight and safety checks. From Reuters:
The State Council, China’s cabinet, said on Wednesday that it would tighten supervision of vaccine distribution, with better record keeping for the production, storing and transport of vaccines and tougher punishments for lawbreakers.
[…] All of the vaccines were all “category 2” vaccines, meaning they were sold on the private market.
The new regulations will see these vaccines come under a more tightly controlled government distribution system, which is used for vaccines within the national immunisation programme.
[…] The proposals would also improve China’s vaccine tracking system, remove incentives for local clinics to make extra money by re-selling unused vaccines and consider how to gradually move more vaccines into the state immunisation list. [Source]