A health service center in northern China was recently found to have deliberately used single-target vaccines to replace a pentavalent vaccine meant to protect children from five diseases at once, in a scheme to make profits.
The incident is the latest in a string of vaccine scandals that have outraged parents nationwide.
China’s state-run newspaper Beijing News ran a Feb. 2 article in which a mother named Feng Shanshan explained that she took her child to the Huitong Community Health Service Center in Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province.
Her child was scheduled to receive four injections for a pentavalent vaccine that prevents pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and the Hab-type Haemophilus influenzae (Hib). On Jan. 30, when her child was to be inoculated again, she noticed that the nurse used a vaccine with different packaging than that of the previous dose.
She suspected something was amiss and demanded to see closed-circuit television footage, which showed that the vaccine was only for Hib.
At this point, the nurse explained that she had “accidentally taken the wrong vaccine for inoculation.”
A Hib vaccine costs a little more than 100 yuan (about $15), while the five-in-one vaccine costs about 632 yuan (about $94) per injection, according to Beijing News.
A child usually receives four inoculations of the five-in-one vaccine, meaning that the center’s staff were overcharging and pocketing 2,000 yuan (about $296) for each child’s case.
The nurse tried to settle the dispute with Feng privately, but she refused and reported the case to the police. A further police investigation into the health center’s purchase orders revealed that it acquired 26 pentavalent vaccines from the central authorities’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention from Dec. 3 to Jan. 31. However, patient visiting records indicated that a total of 44 children had received the pentavalent vaccine during this time period.
That means that at least 18 children received some other type of vaccine instead.
On Feb. 1, the health center announced that it would halt all vaccination services. Both local health authorities and local police will investigate the nurse in question.
Another parent whose child receives vaccines at the Shijiazhuang health center told Beijing News that doctors and nurses often collect cash payments for vaccinations from parents directly, without a proper invoice or registration in the system. It is common to find errors in children’s immunization records, such as missing batch numbers and places of origin for the vaccines, or discrepancies between the vaccine received and the vaccine recorded in the document.
Feng wrote on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, that many local parents she knew who had learned about the situation went back home to check their children’s immunization records, and almost all of them found problems in the records.
Some parents checked the vaccine batch number against a government registry and found that the vaccine had expired when it was administered to the child, Feng wrote.
According to Chinese media Caixin, a local parent surnamed Liu told reporters that this “vaccine replacement incident” could have hurt hundreds of local families. Currently, more than 500 parents have joined a social media group on the popular WeChat platform to discuss this problem, she told Caixin, adding that in the previous week, the health center was bombarded by complaints from 50 to 60 parents every day.
Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized who will investigate the case. The local health authorities will investigate the nurse in question. The Epoch Times regrets the error.