For years scandals involving food and baby milk formula have been grabbing headlines in China and around the world. Slowly, year after year, another problem has gripped China at the expense of the country’s young children—substandard vaccines.
On Nov. 3, China’s Food and Drug Administration issued an announcement that about 650,000 substandard DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccines were found at disease control centers in Shandong Province; Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province; and Chongqing City in southwestern China. The Administration claimed that though the potency of these vaccines might be affected, they would not do any harm to human health. It stated that it had informed relevant provinces on Oct. 29.
The announcement touched on a sore spot for many mainland Chinese parents—their lack of trust in domestic vaccines given that one scandal after another has broken out in recent years, claiming many young victims, including some who have died.
“They said it wouldn’t have any terrible effect, but who knows for sure? It [the Administration] didn’t carry out an investigation, and neither does it know who ended up being vaccinated with these,” said Ms. Chou from Shandong Province, in an interview with New York-based broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD). “When it says the vaccines won’t do the body any harm, who knows? There is no way for us to check.”
Ms. Chou explained that her child has been a victim of problematic vaccines since 2015. The doctor determined that the abnormality in the child’s blood was caused by a faulty vaccine. According to Chou, the Chinese authorities have denied any wrongdoing involved with the vaccine.
“To the [health department], everything is just a number. But for every single family, it is a catastrophe [when a child becomes a victim],” said Chou.
The lack of trust greeting the latest announcement was exacerbated when a leaked document circulating online from the Shandong Food and Drug Administration showed how the provincial authorities tried to cover up the scandal, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Nov. 4.
Addressing officials working at the municipal food and drug administration offices in Shandong, the document, dated Oct. 31, demanded that they recall these substandard vaccines, while also monitoring public opinion toward the incident. According to RFA, the China Food and Drug Administration finally made the announcement on Nov. 3 due to widespread concern by parents.
Speaking with RFA, an official with the Shandong Food and Drug Administration emphasized that there wasn’t any safety concern with the vaccine, but failed to provide a reason why it wouldn’t want to immediately issue a public announcement. China’s central Food and Drug Administration had told provincial authorities that 250,000 of the 650,000 problematic vaccines were in Shandong.
On China’s Twitter-like microblogging service, Weibo, many netizens were angered at what they perceived to be a lie told by authorities, while others were worried if their children had been injected with the vaccines.
“What you say, I don’t believe it, not even a single punctuation mark,” wrote a netizen from coastal Jiangsu Province.
“This means that everything is about maintaining social stability, regardless of the means or form taken,” wrote a netizen from the city of Tianjin.
“My younger sister, after being injected with the vaccine, has a fever and it won’t go down. Later, she had pustules all over her body. And she cannot eat any food either,” wrote a netizen from Hebei Province near Beijing.
“Last time [problematic] vaccines appeared in Shandong—and this time, too. What does this mean, why don’t these vaccines end up in Beijing?” wrote a netizen from Shandong.
Beijing is where Zhongnanhai, the Chinese regime’s headquarters, is located. With the city’s tight security and inspection efforts, it is unlikely that problematic vaccines would end up at the heart of the regime.
In March 2016, a criminal ring was discovered to have sold over US$88 million worth of vaccines. They were uncovered in Shandong, but had been sold to 24 different provinces and cities. The ring sold improperly stored vaccines, as well as vaccines that had passed their expiry date. RFA reported that a 4-year-old boy from Guangdong died as a result of being vaccinated with the problematic vaccine.