Vaccines: a life saving technological breakthrough? Or poison injected into your children? If you’d like save time, you can go ahead and begin the anti-vaxxer flame war in the comment section below.
Still here? Good.
Let’s talk about a vaccine scandal! Chinese pharmacist Pang Hongwei had been illegally trading in vaccines. But authorities were quick to act and she was sentenced to three years in prison, later reduced to five years probation. That was in 2009.
But then in 2011, instead of stopping her illegal vaccine trade, she somehow began working with local officials in 24 provinces, for five years, creating one of the biggest health scandals in Chinese history. I wonder if that violates the terms of her probation.
As of now, this $90 million dollar scandal has exposed 29 pharmaceutical firms, 16 health departments and 357 officials.
Here’s how it worked: According to China’s FDA, Pang was buying cheap vaccines from drug companies that were either expired or close to their expiration date. Then she sold them across China. And local officials cooperated—for a profit.
Local governments don’t get money from the central government, so they’re often forced to come up with some…creative ways to make money, like: land seizures, fines for violations of the one (and now two) child policy, and selling vaccines.
Provincial disease control centers mark up the vaccines and then force hospitals to buy them. And while some vaccines for diseases like polio and tuberculosis are considered mandatory for everyone and are free—others, like for chickenpox or meningitis, Chinese citizens have to buy themselves.
Now if you think this whole local government-backed monopoly on expired or nearly expired vaccines could go on forever, well, it didn’t. It only went on for five years. That’s when police stumbled upon Pang’s stash of vaccines—in an unrefrigerated storeroom in an abandoned factory. Apparently vaccines are supposed to be refrigerated.
So for five years, people across China were paying for vaccines that were expired and weren’t stored properly. Now while that may sound bad, what’s even worse is that officials covered up the scandal for an entire year. In fact, the only reason it came to light is that authorities asked suppliers in March to step forward so they could trace potential victims. In other words, they were afraid the problem might become too big to cover up, so they decided to ‘fess up. Just like they did with SARS.
So is there a risk of getting poisoned from expired vaccines? According to World Health Organization representative Dr. Lance Rodewald, “This is not the case. Vaccines that are improperly handled can lose their potency and they may not protect the child against the disease the vaccine was intended to prevent.”
So you can see why authorities covered it up for a year. There was nothing to worry about! Expired vaccines just lose their potency. They don’t kill you. Unless you die from the disease they’re supposed to protect you against—because you never got a real vaccination.
As for Pang, she’s been detained, but police haven’t announced any specific charges, because, you know, not telling people things has worked out so great in the past. But some say that if courts feel they’ve endangered lives, they could face the death sentence.
The Chinese people already don’t have much faith in Chinese goods, from all the fake medicine, fake food, toxic milk, or that time in 2013 when a couple of infants died following a Hepatitis B vaccination but the Chinese FDA said it was unrelated but who really believes what the Chinese government says anyway?
And this five-year-long-scandal-plus-one-year-cover-up has not helped. Doctors in China are already reporting a big drop-off in vaccinations across the country.
So what do you think? Leave your comments below!