In China, Vaccine Scandal Infuriates Parents and Tests Government


BEIJING — Chinese parents were in an uproar on Monday amid reports that hundreds of thousands of children might have been injected with faulty vaccines, the latest scandal to hit the nation’s troubled drug industry.

The outcry came after an investigation by the government showed that a major drug producer in northeast China, Changchun Changsheng, had violated standards in making at least 250,000 doses of vaccine for rabies and other conditions.

The scandal has rekindled fears that corruption and abuse in the nation’s vast pharmaceutical industry are placing ordinary people at risk. It has also undermined President Xi Jinping’s efforts to restore confidence in medicine produced in China at a time when the country is striving to become a leading producer of pharmaceuticals.

While there were no reports of deaths or illnesses related to the faulty vaccines, many parents were outraged and demanded that the government take action.

“We always say that kids are the nation’s future, but if we can’t ensure the safety of such a future, what does the future hold for us?” said Huo Xiaoling, 37, who works in marketing in eastern China and has a 1-year-old daughter who received a vaccine made by Changchun Changsheng.

The scandal has shaken public confidence in the government and led to an unusually fierce outpouring of criticism online.

The government struggled to contain anger over the scandal, the third such crisis involving vaccines since 2010. As of Monday afternoon, a hashtag about the scandal had received tens of millions of views on Weibo, a popular social media platform.

Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement on Sunday that the actions of the vaccine producers “crossed a moral line.” He vowed to “resolutely crack down on all illegal and criminal acts that endanger the safety of people’s lives.”

But many people were unsatisfied with the government’s response.

One image circulating online showed a screenshot of Mr. Li’s statement on Sunday next to a similar statement he offered after another vaccine scandal in 2016, suggesting the government had done nothing to address the problem.

“I hope they don’t bitterly disappoint the people again,” one Weibo user wrote.

Changchun Changsheng, the company at the center of the scandal, also came under attack. Some internet users said executives at the company shown to have broken the law should receive the death penalty.

“One shot destroys one life,” one person wrote.

As reports circulated on social media showing that other vaccines produced by the company, including for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, might also be affected, many parents rushed to locate their children’s immunization records.

Public health officials worry that the scandal may prompt Chinese families to opt out of vaccinations, even though they are required by law. The government has said that children who received faulty vaccines should be taken to a hospital to receive another immunization.

Zhang Zhiqian, 32, said his 3-year-old daughter had been given vaccines made by Changchun Changsheng in 2015. He said he wanted to take part in the government’s inquiry because he had lost faith in officials to regulate the industry.

“I don’t believe in their internal top-down investigation,” he said. “It’s easy to tell that most other parents don’t trust them either.”

Iris Zhao, Zoe Mou and Charlotte Pu contributed research.

Follow Javier C. Hernández on Twitter: @HernandezJavier.

Source : Nytimes