Corruption alleged as tainted vaccines kill Chinese children
FOR Wang Mingliang, the birth of a son should have been the start of a season of joy in his village at the rural heart of northern China.
But his little boy, Xiao’er, lived just seven months before he suffered convulsions and a fever, then died. Wang said Xiao’er fell ill after vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis. “My whole family is plunged in sorrow,” he said.
“Our son was vaccinated by the hospital and they sterilised my wife to conform to the birth control policy. Now my son is dead and my wife can have no more children.”
His son was among thousands of children given tainted vaccines in a scandal that reporters and medical staff allege has left four dead and 74 handicapped.
Wang is one of more than 70 parents who have tried to sue the health authorities in Shanxi province. The courts and health officials have rejected their claims, saying that an inquiry found no connection between vaccines and the children’s health problems.
In response to public outrage, however, the health ministry has ordered an inquiry after Wang Keqiang, one of China’s top investigative reporters, revealed a web of alleged corruption and incompetence that put many children at risk.
The vaccines were stored without refrigeration by a firm that had won a distribution monopoly, said his report in the China Economic Times.
Other cases listed by the paper included Yan Yan, a girl of two, in a vegetative state; Qiang Qian, a boy of eight who suffers convulsions; and Jun Jun, a boy with brain damage.
The scandal has put the press in open conflict with bureaucrats and has led censors to banish the original story from the internet.
The report was “basically not true”, said Li Shukai, the local deputy health director, in an interview with Xinhua, the state news agency.
Doctors and a whistleblower, who was a senior official at the provincial disease control centre, have backed the journalist. “Our report was based on a six-month inquiry and interviews with the families of 36 victims plus testimony, videos and documents,” the reporter said. “I knew before writing the article they’d try to hush it up.”
Chen Tao’an, the whistleblower, said he had watched millions of batches of vaccines dumped “like potatoes” in the open air, exposed to sunlight or kept in hot rooms by the Beijing Huawei Biomedical company. Vaccines should be kept at tightly controlled temperatures.
“I reported this to higher officials more than 30 times but every time my report sank into oblivion,” Chen said.
Officials were unable to stem a tide of criticism as more alleged instances of contaminated medicine came to light. These included 400,000 people in the eastern city of Hangzhou who were given fake hepatitis vaccine and an official report that 210,000 faulty batches of rabies vaccine had been found in 27 provinces.