07/30/2018, 00.00
CHINA
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China vaccine scandal: forged data pervades the system

Water solution was given in lieu of rabies shot; expiry dates changed to sell vaccines. According to experts, the scandal that hit the Changsheng Bio-tech is just the tip of the iceberg of a system that is based on forged data and corruption.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The scandal that has recently beset Changsheng Biotech is not an isolated incident, according to experts.

China’s State Drug Administration (SDA) reports that Changsheng Bio-tech forged data on the effectiveness of its rabies vaccines and sold substandard DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) shots for children as young as three months old.

The vaccination programme is state-sponsored and delivered through the country’s 3,000 or so local disease control centres for free.

While there are no official figures or reliable independent assessments about the full extent of the problems, authorities have found fraud throughout the domestic vaccine supply chain, from laboratories to vaccination centres.

The head of one disease control centre for about half a million people said problems with the quality of vaccines had existed for a long time and “everyone inside the loop knows it”.

Another problem is funding shortages. “Government funds are allocated to the local health bureau, but the bureau only gives a very small amount of money to my station,” the centre head said.

In one extreme case, a staff member at the centre filled a syringe with water and sold it to a patient as a rabies shot, the source said.

The source also said it was a common practice for lower-level disease control centres to push clients to have optional, paid-for injections.

“If everyone comes here for free vaccines, how can the centre maintain its operations [without adequate funding]?” he said.

It was also common practice to sweep the numbers for some diseases under the carpet rather than treat them, the source said.

“Basically, we did not do anything to prevent malaria and many medicines are stored in our station too long and they pass their expiry date,” he said.

Another issue was changing the production date. When a batch of products was close to its expiry date, the production date was changed so that they could still be sold.

In Changsheng Bio-tech case, the company “forged production logs and product inspection records and randomly altered production technical parameters and equipment”, according to the SDA.

A government investigation of the manufacturer found that the company had used expired materials and conducted experiments on mice at the wrong time.

To cover up its procedural violations, the firm faked production and testing records, and issued receipts that contained false information about when the mice had been bought.

The Health Ministry introduced rules barring all individuals and institutions, other than “expert consortiums set by China’s disease control authority”, from determining whether an illness was caused by vaccine, making it impossible for anyone other than the vaccine authority to question quality and effectiveness of vaccines.

However, many parents said they lost faith in the health care system even though Beijing is trying to reassure the public that the scandals are isolated cases and the consequences are under control.

Joseph Wu, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said ineffective vaccines given to a large population could increase the possibility of an outbreak, particularly for highly transmissible infectious diseases such as measles.

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