The controversy surrounding the use of unsafe vaccines in China’s Shanxi Province has escalated after two Chinese newspapers published contradictory reports on the effects of vaccines given to children.
Parents in Shanxi Province have reported a severe vaccine problem. Vaccines exposed to high temperatures were distributed for three years. Many children who were given such vaccines have died or become handicapped.
Families have been asking the authorities to investigate but to no avail. Seven families filed a lawsuit in January 2009 which was rejected by authorities. Chen Tao’an, an official with the Center for Disease Control, was himself arrested and detained after reporting on the problem.
On March 17, China Economic Times published an article in which reporter Wang Keqing stated that, based on his research, including information collected from more than 70 children, he had proof of foul play in the use and marketing of vaccines in Shanxi Province.
The article was widely circulated on major Web sites in China and generated widespread attention. The Shanxi Ministry of Health denied the allegations.
In response to the article in the Economic Times, Xinhua News Agency’s local office published their own investigative report on March 18 which vehemently denied the allegations.
One issue was the fact that Xinhua’s article quoted statements allegedly made by the parents, when in fact Xinhua had never actually interviewed the parents.
Parents protested in front of the Xinhua Taiyan branch in Shanxi. They said Mr. Wang, the branch director, indicated the investigative report he published was provided by the Shanxi Ministry of Health.
Yi Wenlong, one of the parents, said he told Wang that it was not right to claim they had said something without talking to them, and Wang admitted it too and said he would get back with them in a few days.
In the meantime, parents received threatening messages on their home phones and cell phones, and even an offer of money to keep their mouths shut.
Chen Tao’an also said he had received threatening messages, including: “Stop pursuing the matter on vaccine. If you stop, our boss will give you 100,000 yuan (US$14,650). If you insist on doing so, it would be very easy for our boss to hire someone to cut off one of your legs.”
Three other parents, including Song Tianjiao, Wang Mingliang, and Yi Wenlong, received similar threatening messages.
Support from Other Media Amidst Suppression
Despite Xinhua’s rebuttal and the threatening messages, many Chinese people have shown support for the victims’ families and for China Economic Times. Although they were forced to copy Xinhua’s report, some Chinese media actually supported China Economic Times for exposing the dark side of these vaccine injections.
One publication, Southern Metropolis Daily, noted in a report of March 20 that Xinhua News Agency had only spent one day investigating the matter whereas China Economic Times reporter Wang Keqing had spent six months investigating and interviewing people. It also quoted China Economic Times’ editor, Chen Hongwei, who said that “If they were looking for the truth, they should have gone straight to those children instead of interviewing government officials or experts.”
Full Extent of the Problem Still Unknown
Wang Mingliang’s eldest son was just over nine months old when he died after receiving a vaccine that had been exposed to temperatures detrimental to shelf life in 2008. He said that more than a hundred children in Shanxi were victims of the unsafe vaccines. Family members joined efforts to appeal for their rights. “They went to the respective organizations more that 30–50 times,” he said.
Yi Wenlong’s daughter developed epilepsy after receiving an unsafe vaccine. He said that according to newspaper reports alone, there are more than 30 such cases, but the actual numbers far exceed this. Many people are ignorant of the problems, and some of the problems do not show up for days or even a month after the injection, so many parents do not make the connection.
Chen Tao’an said that he first discovered there was a problem with the vaccines as early as March or April of 2007. He reported on it more than 30 times and even wrote articles exposing the partnership between government officials and merchants in their attempt to monopolize the vaccine market. That was when he was arrested and detained.
Only the Procuratorate in Taiyuan conducted a serious investigation into the matter, but their results were put aside. Other areas did nothing about it.
In Chen's opinion, the main problem with the vaccines was caused by exposure to high temperatures. This was caused by improper handling while transporting the vaccines and incorrect storage.
He said, “There are strict requirements regarding the transportation and storage of vaccines. When vaccines in transport are not handled according to standards, then the safety of these vaccines is in doubt.” Chen said there are too many loopholes in the system, and the government should impose strict regulations on the management of vaccines.
Also, without a thorough investigation, only isolated cases can be uncovered, and the extent of the problem will not be known, Chen said.
Not Intimidated by Threats
Regarding claims made by Shanxi Ministry of Health that the reports are inaccurate, the China Economic Times responded that they are willing to bear legal responsibility for reporting on the truth.
Wang Keqing also stated his determination to expose the truth and persist to the end.
Chen Tao’an told The Epoch Times that he will “definitely continue to take the same path, because this has something to do with the life and safety of people, especially children.”
Yi Wenlong said that the threatening message did not scare them off at all. Instead they are now actually more determined to investigate who is responsible for the matter. “We will continue to chase down the people who were behind this,” he said.