The parents of nearly 400 children in the central Chinese province of Henan say they have suffered severe health problems and two deaths in recent months after the children were given out-of-date vaccines, parents told RFA on Monday.
The 360 children, who are all residents of Shenqiu county near Henan's Zhoukou city, started to have adverse reactions after being vaccinated last year.
Local satellite station Henan TV said in a report last week that a three-month-old infant was among the victims, suffering from a persistent high fever and breathing difficulties after being given a whooping cough vaccine.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the child, who was in critical condition for two weeks and who still suffers from health problems, had been given a vaccine in June 2014 that was supposed to have been used by December 2013, the report said.
Since the reports of sick children emerged, the Shenqiu county center for disease control and prevention (CDC) has published the results of a report, which concluded that the diseases weren't linked to vaccinations.
Yu Tong'an, a parent of a child whose health was also damaged by a vaccine product in the southern province of Guangdong, said the problem of out-of-date or substandard vaccines is endemic in China's healthcare system, which has scant provision for independent safety checks.
"Since this rather large group of victims was affected in Zhoukou, the government's response has been to say that this has nothing to do with vaccinations," Yu told RFA on Monday.
"[The problem is that] there is no third party that can play a supervisory role once these problems occur."
"It's a huge fallacy for them to say they can supervise and manage these things themselves," Yu added.
Reverse effect feared
He said vaccines in particular need careful monitoring for contaminants, because they initiate an immune response in those who receive them.
"The thing we fear most is that the vaccine has the reverse effect ... and affects the child's own immune system and general health," he said.
A local resident surnamed Gao said some of the children in her extended family won't be getting vaccinated at all as a result of the scare.
"On my mother's side of the family, they don't dare to vaccinate my brother's kid any more," Gao said. "If it was me, I don't think I'd want my kid vaccinated either."
"They can get very seriously ill after these injections."
Calls to the Shenqiu county CDC rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
The Henan reports are the latest in a string of public health scandals to hit China's healthcare profession in recent years.
In January 2014, the authorities claimed that the deaths of 17 infants who died after receiving hepatitis B vaccine were unrelated to the inoculation, amid strong vocal opposition from the children's parents.
And in September 2011, parents from across China converged on Beijing this week to call for compensation for the death of at least one child and severe illness in others linked to compulsory measles vaccinations rolled out nationwide in 2010.
China's pharmaceutical industry is highly lucrative but poorly regulated, resulting in a string of fatalities blamed on counterfeit or shoddy medications in recent years.
An investigative report in the China Economic Times last year said that improperly stored vaccines administered by Shanxi health officials for encephalitis, hepatitis B, and rabies between 2006 and 2008 had killed four children and sickened more than 70 others, with tainted vaccines being used as late as March 2009.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.