Probe Into Measles Jab Death

Authorities investigate a vaccination drive in southern China.

2010.09.17
A Chinese nurse prepares a dose of vaccination against measles in Hefei, Sept. 11, 2010.
AFP

HONG KONG—Officials in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi are investigating the death of a high-school student who recently received a measles injection as part of a nationwide vaccination program.

Luo Yunfeng, a third-year student at the Longcheng No. 1 High School near Beiliu city in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, died suddenly on Friday, just two days after receiving the measles vaccine.

An official who answered the phone at the Longcheng township government offices near Guangxi's Beiliu city, confirmed the recent death of a student  at the Longcheng No. 1 High School.

"We have already sent people to investigate this matter," the official said. "But we don't have any concrete information yet."

A teacher at the school said the immunization program had been halted at the school pending the investigation into Luo's death.

"The police are investigating the matter," the teacher said. "They stopped vaccinating people yesterday."

"They want to discover the reason [behind Luo's death]."

Industry under fire

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.

A March investigative report in the China Economic Times 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 vaccinations being used as late as March 2009.

However, an official who answered the phone at the Beiliu municipal health department said she hadn't heard about Luo's death.

"I haven't received any reports of anyone dying after receiving the measles vaccination," the official said.

"We have had no formal reports of suspected cases [related to the immunization program] either," the official said.

Luo's death was first reported online by someone signing themselves "Tangyang" and claiming to be one of the child's parents.

"The police and health department officials are at my home right now, and they have told me not to tell anyone about this," the post, on the Tengxun discussion forum, said.

"They want to deal with it after they get a conclusion from the autopsy."

A parent in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi said parents who had heard of Luo's case were watching closely to see what officials do next.

"If they report it openly, then it's probably fine, but if they try to cover it up, then that means it was probably [a problem with] the vaccine," she said.

Disease eradication

Health ministry officials said earlier this month that the free measles vaccination program would cover 100 million Chinese children from Sept. 11-20, in a bid to eradicate the disease and reassure the public that the vaccines were safe.

Disease control czar Hao Yang said China has already eradicated smallpox and polio, and plans to eliminate filariasis and measles by 2012.

Health ministry officials received reports of 52,000 measles cases nationwide in 2009, a fall of 60.1 percent from the 131,000 cases in 2008, official media reported.

China's former top drug regulator was executed in 2007 for taking millions of dollars in bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 people.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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