Parents of Vaccine-Stricken Children Vow to Keep Up Campaign Amid Scandal


2018-08-17
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china-vaccine.jpg A child receives a vaccination shot at the local disease control and prevention center in Jiujiang in central China's Jiangxi province, July 24, 2018.
AFP

Parents of children sickened or disabled by substandard vaccines vowed to continue their protests in the Chinese capital on Friday, as the government vowed to sanction dozens of officials in the unfolding scandal.

China fired senior provincial food and drug administration official Jin Yuhui on Thursday, and is investigating a former top drug regulator after a safety scandal at vaccine maker Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology in the northeastern province of Jilin.

More than 40 government officials, including seven at the provincial level, have been held sanctioned over the scandal by various administrative punishments, including removal from their posts, state news agency Xinhua reported.

But He Fangmei, known by her online nickname Shisanmei, said parents would continue their protests and petitions in Beijing.

"We haven't had any sort of resolution; not even a response," He said of the parent campaigners' protests outside the State Health and Family Planning Commission complaints office.

"They took our statements at the [local] police station ... and wrote down the hometowns of all of the parents," she said. "Of course I don't know whether they were doing this to stall us, or whether they were in good faith."

Not all the parents protesting have children affected by Changchun Changsheng rabies shots, however.

He, who has become a vocal advocate for families hit by substandard vaccines, said her daughter developed gray matter spondylitis from a substandard diptheria-tetanus-whooping cough vaccine made by Wuhan Bio at the age of three months.

She wants the government to 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, including compensation to help with mounting medical bills.

A campaigning parent surnamed Wang called on the government to mete out harsh punishments to anyone responsible for substandard vaccines.

"In my view, these companies have broken the law, and they should have to pay back the debt they owe us," Wang said. "This is a crime relating to public health and safety, and ... it should draw the death penalty."

"But parents like us don't care about that sort of thing: what concerns us is how many vaccines were in the substandard [batches], and how many child victims have they created?" he said.

"[We care about] how the government is going to recognize the children who have been harmed by them, and how they plan to pay compensation and cure them."

Outsourcing faulted

Chen Bingzhong, former director of the China Institute of Health Education, said private companies shouldn't be licensed to make vaccines in the first place.

"That was originally in the rules, until the government started outsourcing manufacture to these pharmaceutical companies," Chen told RFA on Friday.

"It's the health ministry that buys them, so who in the health ministry has been responsible for buying them? There are also people directly responsible for such things in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCs) at every level of government," he said.

Meanwhile, state media said investigators from the anti-corruption watchdog are also probing the role of Wu Zhen, a former deputy head of the China Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"The case is a serious offense, in which the vaccine producer violated the law and relevant standards and regulations in pursuit of profits and fabricated false production inspection records," Xinhua reported.

"A number of local government officials and supervisory departments were found in dereliction of duty. The case resulted in a negative impact and exposed many loopholes, such as inadequate supervision, and reflected institutional defects in the production, circulation and use of vaccines," it said.

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.

Changchun Changsheng has apologized and said it is cooperating fully with the investigation, warning that the halt in production of its rabies vaccines could result in its delisting from the stockmarket.

The company is believed to have produced nearly 500,000 sub-standard vaccines for children, official media reported this week.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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