In China, Parents of Vaccine-Sickened Children Call For Answers

000_17X9ME.jpg A child receives a vaccination shot at a hospital in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province, July 26, 2018. China's drug regulator said it has launched a nationwide inspection of vaccine production as authorities step up the response to a fraud case that has re-ignited public fears over the safety of the country's medicines.

More than 150 parents of children sickened or disabled by faulty vaccines in China have added their names and photographs to a document
detailing the extent of the problem in recent years.

In a bid to force the ruling Chinese Communist Party to face up to the extent of the problem, the parents also provide their phone numbers for anyone wishing to inquire about their situation.

Henan-based parent activist He Fangmei, known by her online nickname Shisanmei, has become a vocal advocate for such families, playing a prominent role in an ongoing campaign for recognition that their children were let down badly by the state, and for appropriate compensation.

"I got a call today from the Songzhuang police station, near where I have rented accommodation in Beijing," He told RFA in a recent interview.

"They asked me if I was the founder of the Vaccine Parents group, and I said that I was," she said. "They said their boss had told them to tell me that I could stand up for my rights, but that I had to do it in a legal manner."

"I said that I behave both legally and reasonably," He said. "They told me not to go to making a fuss in Tiananmen Square or Zhongnanhai," she said, in a reference to Communust Party headquarters in the Chinese capital.

He, whose daughter developed gray matter spondylitis from a substandard DPT vaccine made by Wuhan Bio at the age of three months, said she hopes the government will face up to its responsibilities in the wake of wave upon wave of vaccine scandals in recent years, and give the families hit by faulty vaccines some kind of response.

Child in leg braces

Jin, the mother of a 12-year-old son left disabled by a faulty vaccine in the eastern province of Anhui, still finds it hard to speak about the subject.

"The problems with his legs make daily living very difficult indeed," she said. "He has to wear braces to be able to walk around, and he often falls over."

She added: "It has been like this since he was very small. We have only just started getting surgery, and there is a major operation coming up, because his legs are hugely different [sizes]."

Jin's son Peng Jiahao was administered a live polio vaccine using drops on a sugar cube in May 2006, when he was three months old. A few days later, he began suffering from a fever, which left him partially paralyzed from the waist down.

Medical tests revealed that Peng had contracted polio.

Jin took her son to consult with top experts in Beijing to try to get to the bottom of what happened. They all concluded that his illness could only have come from a faulty vaccine.

"There was a very clear link drawn between the beginning of his illness and the vaccine," she said. "The problem stems from the lack of clear and effective standards in this country."

"The players in the game are also the referees."

Protest and arrests

Last month, campaigning parents gathered in protest outside China's state health and family planning commission after police made arrests at a major vaccine manufacturer in the northeastern province of Jilin.

More than 20 parents attended the protest, holding up a banner that read "Disabled by vaccines; give us back our health!" outside the government buildings, until police came in and escorted them away, eyewitnesses said.

The protest came after vaccine manufacturer Changchun Changsheng issued a recall of its rabies vaccine, which had been administered to thousands of children across the country, sparking a police investigation at the company.

The Changsheng recall was the latest in a string of tainted or substandard vaccine scandals to hit China, with commentators hitting out at endemic corruption and profiteering in the country's biotech industry.

State-owned vaccine maker Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co and Changchun Changsheng had previously been found to have sold ineffective or harmful DPT vaccines to inoculate children against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.

Parent activist Zhao Lianhai, who campaigns for children sickened during the 2008 melamine-tainted infant formula scandal, said he is working on a comprehensive database of children affected by tainted vaccines.

Zhao said in an online statement that the problem of children made sick or disabled by vaccines is a very serious one, and that many families have been in need of help for years.

The Lancet medical journal said in a recent editorial that the current crisis of confidence in the safety and effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines "seriously threatens" the country's immunization program and puts millions at risk of unnecessary harm.

"It is urgent for the government to reflect on and reform where necessary the country's vaccine regulatory system," the journal said. "A better understanding of the concerns of the public and more transparent and open regulation are essential to protect millions of children from preventable illnesses."

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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