Father Was Told Dying Daughter Was Fine After Illegal Vaccination


September 20, 2003: A Chinese nurse prepares an injection at a hospital in Shanghai. Photo: AFP/Liu Jin

HONG KONG—The father of a six-year-old girl who died after a receiving an illegal hepatitis A vaccine in China’s Anhui Province says doctors repeatedly assured him his daughter was fine even as she turned purple and began foaming at the mouth.

"I called the chief doctor quite a few times but got the same answer: 'You as a parent should not panic,'" the girl’s father, who asked to be identified by his surname, Li, told RFA’s Mandarin service.

"Her condition then became worse and worse. When she was sent to a makeshift emergency room, she had nonstop cramps in her hands.... There were purple patches on her body and her lips were purple too. But they kept saying she was fine, she was fine," he said.

Li Wei was hospitalized with an unspecified infection and breathing problems after receiving a dose of the vaccine, her father said.

He told RFA’s Mandarin service that he was pressured to bury her quickly as well, which he fears reflected an effort to obscure the cause of her death.

China bans vaccines

"By the time she was sent to the [Si County] People's Hospital, she was vomiting white stuff, white foam came out of her nose, and her whole body turned blue. Within half an hour, she was gone. They said she had not received prompt treatment," he said.

I called the chief doctor quite a few times but got the same answer: "You as a parent should not panic."

On Wednesday, Chinese authorities banned the sale and use of hepatitis A vaccines suspected in Li Wei’s death and the sickening of more than 200 others, among some 2,500 children who received the vaccine. Sources in the province say 60 to 70 children remain hospitalized.

The ban announced Wednesday covers five batches of vaccine from Zhejiang Pukang Biotech Co. Ltd., Chinese central television reported.

Wu Min, deputy Si County executive, told RFA’s Mandarin Service the vaccinations came from an illegal source. The food and drug bureau in Anhui Province said an unlicensed provider named Zhang Peng sold the vaccinations to Dazhuang Township Health and Immunization Center.

Many children suffered

"There are still 60 to 70 children still hospitalized," a Si County hospital staff member told RFA’s Cantonese service. "Their conditions are stable. Others have been released."

About 2,500 school children received the vaccine, according to a Si County information officer surnamed Gao. "Many of them had side effects. Some experienced headaches, breathing problems, and numbness of the hands and feet," he said.

Officials haven’t yet determined if the single reported death "was because of the illegal vaccine shot or other reasons. We have to test it. All of the samples were sent to Beijing for testing a week ago," Gao said.

Parents were allegedly overcharged

"Three people including the director of Dazhuang Township Hospital were arrested [because] they did something illegal, and not in accordance with the legal procedure for administering vaccine shots to children."

"People throughout the village are talking about this incident," one villager from Dazhuang township told RFA’s Cantonese service. "Most of the children are having problems such as headaches and dizziness. The villagers believe that the girl died because of delayed treatment."

While the market price for a single vaccination is 6 yuan (less than U.S. $1), Dazhuang Township Health and Immunization Center was charging parents 25 yuan (about U.S. $3), she said.

China faces a constant battle against counterfeit medicine, food, and other threats to public health. Earlier this month, a homemade chicken pox vaccine killed a child and sickened 151 students and a teacher in the southwestern province of Yunnan.


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