UPDATED at 12:32 P.M. EST on 2016-04-14
Authorities in China have sanctioned more than 350 local officials blamed for a recent tainted vaccines scandal, but parents of affected children said on Thursday the moves don't go far enough, amid calls for compensation.
The government has dismissed or demoted 357 officials for "poor performance," as well as ordering tighter measures to ensure better storage and distribution methods for the vaccines, official media reported.
The country's cabinet, the State Council, announced the sanctions, saying that criminal charges are being brought in 192 cases, with 202 detained so far in the nationwide investigation.
But parents whose children have already fallen victim to tainted vaccines say far more needs to be done, including compensation payouts to the families affected by vaccine-related deaths or illness.
"If I had caused the death of somebody's child, and I had money, I would pay them compensation," parent campaigner Liu Lijun told RFA on Thursday.
"Of course I'm not satisfied with them sanctioning a few officials," Liu said.
He said parents need further reassurance that a safe delivery system is in place for vaccines before they start immunizing their kids again.
"Vaccines are a good thing, but we want to know whose job it is to handle our complaints now that there has been a problem," Liu said.
"You can lock up the people responsible or execute them,” he said. “These things are your job as a government. But what are the child victims supposed to do now?"
‘They won’t sort it out’
China launched a nationwide probe of hundreds of people believed to be involved in an illegal vaccine-selling operation that was found last month to be peddling out-of-date or improperly stored vaccines, amid emerging reports of child and infant deaths and illnesses following immunizations.
However, parents who have campaigned for compensation have already run afoul of the authorities.
Parent campaigner Wang Liangqing said she had been escorted back to her hometown of Shenzhen after she traveled there in a bid to seek compensation.
"They won't sort this out for us, and they have given us nothing except for stability maintenance [security measures]; that's all they care about," Wang said.
"They spent nearly 100,000 yuan [U.S. $15,425] on the plane tickets bringing us home alone, but they have given nothing towards the medical fees my kid needs," she said.
"The government should face up to the fact that these kids have been harmed by vaccines, but all they do is evade the issue and kick us around from department to department," Wang said.
"The parents and children [affected by vaccines] have got to the point of desperation," she said.
Wang said the sanctions handed down to officials meant nothing to those faced with complex medical problems following routine vaccinations.
"How does [that] help us? My kid is still lying in the hospital, and we have no money to pay the medical bills," she said.
Authorities tighten security
Li Mingwei, a parent campaigner from the northern province of Shaanxi, said the authorities are tightening security around parents whose children were sickened by vaccines recently, all around the country.
"Government officials and police have been to visit me twice in the past couple of days," Li said. "They want me not to go [to Beijing to complain]."
"They are already putting security measures in place; they are prepared."
Shenzhen-based parent activist Cai Xujuan said she has been petitioning in Beijing about vaccine damage to her child for six weeks now, but that police turned down an application for a permit to stage a demonstration by around 100 affected parents.
"The health department and other officials are saying ... now I have applied and been turned down for a permit to demonstrate, that I should go back home," Cai said.
"But if the authorities in Guangdong won't give my child a response, I will come back to Beijing."
Vaccines to be tracked
According to Xinhua news agency and other state media, drug wholesalers will also be banned from the sale of vaccines, which will now be tracked from production to point of use, including storage conditions like refrigeration and transport.
Nine companies were reselling improperly stored or expired vaccines, according to China's Food and Drug Administration, warning of potential side effects and ordering out-of-date or improperly stored vaccines to be destroyed.
Earlier this month, worried parents from mainland China flooded across the internal immigration border into Hong Kong in a bid to get their children immunized safely.
Health officials in the former British colony hastily slapped a quota system on child vaccinations this week, in a bid to protect supplies for children resident in the city, but the monthly quota was filled at many health centers on the first day of the month.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ha Si-man and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.