A top Chinese health official has touted Chinese-made vaccines as “one of the best in the world,” in response to concerns over a slew of vaccine scandals that have rocked the country in recent years.
Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, when asked by reporters about vaccine safety in the country, said the problem wasn’t exclusive to China.
“It’s not only Chinese people who have concerns about domestic vaccines. Vaccines in other developed countries have the same problems,” Gao said at a press conference held by China’s National Health Commission in Beijing on Feb. 25.
However, he didn’t provide further detail as to which other developed countries have encountered similar problems. Rather, Gao attributed the series of vaccine scandals to the criminal actions of certain individuals, which he claimed “have nothing to do with the inherent quality of the vaccines.”
“For example, if you ask for product A, but you are given product B, the problem here has nothing to do with the vaccine,” he said.
Gao concluded that “vaccines made in China have to be one of the best vaccines in the world,” and implored the public not to lose confidence in made-in-China vaccines “simply because there have been several vaccine-related incidents.”
China’s Vaccine Scandals
Contrary to Gao’s claims, in addition to public-health scares involving fraud during a vaccine’s distribution, sale, or administration, China’s recent history is littered with cases of fake or tainted vaccines.
In 2004, a vaccine supplier for Women and Children’s Hospital of Suqian, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, was found to be using a 200-square-foot kitchen-like office to manufacture and store vaccines.
The vaccines were stored in two household refrigerators, one of which wasn’t even connected to a power supply. According to the local food and drug administration, the vaccines were used on more than 3,000 infants in the area.
In 2008, Dalian Jingang, a drug manufacturer in northeastern China, had its license revoked after authorities found that it had added a form of nucleic acid to its rabies vaccine. The resulting vaccine would thus register as having the required potency levels, while containing less than the required amount of active ingredients.
In December 2009, a 5-year-old boy from Laibin City, in southern China’s Guangxi province, was sent to the township hospital for a rabies injection after being bitten by a dog; the boy died 21 days later. The rabies vaccine was tested and found to be counterfeit.
In 2010, a China Economic Times investigative reporter found that a failure to refrigerate vaccines by health officials in northern China’s Shanxi province resulted in the death of four children and hospitalization of more than 70 other infants who had been vaccinated between 2006 and 2008. The reporter, the publication’s editor-in-chief, and publisher were later fired for defending the report.
In July 2018, Chinese drug company Changsheng Biotechnology was fined for selling substandard vaccines and forging manufacturing data; the company’s chairwoman and 17 other employees, including executives, were also arrested. More than 200,000 infants had already been inoculated with the tainted vaccine when local authorities issued a recall for the drugs.
That’s only a snapshot of recent vaccine scandals in China.
Gao’s comments sparked a wave of anger on China’s internet.
“China’s domestic vaccines have had such serious problems,” one netizen wrote. “In other countries, officials at your level would have to apologize and resign. Fancy that you still have the nerve to say such sheer nonsense here!”
Another questioned the official, “Did you mean it’s not a big issue if vaccines are found to have problems, because vaccines should be treated as a normal commodity?”
Many others online criticized Gao as “having no sense of shame.”