China’s vaccine scandal

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 26th of July, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up on The World and Everything in It: The vaccination scandal in China. On Monday, a Chinese government investigation revealed hundreds of thousands of children received defective vaccines from one of the country’s major medical manufacturers.

WORLD’s June Cheng has been following this story, and she’s here now to talk about it.

June, what did the government find when they inspected the Changsheng biotechnologies facilities?

JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: The Chinese government found that the company had fabricated production and testing records and falsified production specifications. This affects more than 100,000 doses of Changsheng’s anti-rabies vaccine as well as more than 250,000 doses of its diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccine. Many of the defective vaccines had already been given to children as part of a mandatory vaccination program. And some of them are as young as 3 months old. Thankfully, there have been no deaths or illnesses reported from the children who received the vaccine.

BASHAM: Wow. And what has been the Chinese government’s response?

CHENG: China’s Food and Drug Administration has forced Changsheng to stop all production of the vaccine and recall the unused ones. President Xi Jinping called the scandal “terrible and shocking” and promised to investigate the situation. Also, the officials have detained 15 people from the company, including the chairwoman of Changsheng. They fined the company more than $500,000 for the defective vaccines and opened a criminal investigation.

BASHAM: And what about the public? How have they been receiving this? What’s their reaction?

CHENG: As expected, Chinese citizens, especially parents, were outraged to hear about the scandal. They worry about how it’s impacting their children’s health and it further erodes their trust in China’s healthcare industry. Changsheng is the second largest manufacturer of the rabies vaccine in the country and so it brings up concerns about whether smaller brands are also cutting corners. On Wiebo, which is similar to Twitter, one Chinese citizen posted, “My home country, how can I trust you? You just let me down again and again.”

BASHAM: Well, it’s funny because I’m wondering is this typical that the Chinese public has such a distrust of domestically manufactured healthcare products? Or is this a new thing?

CHENG: Yeah, China has a long history of scandals that include medicine and food. There was recently another vaccine scandal in 2016 where 2 million vaccines were found improperly stored or transported. And back in 2008, a baby milk formula left 300,000 infants sick after drinking the formula. Even today, many of the Chinese parents I know still buy their baby formula overseas. And in general, China is known for having very lax medical ethics. For instance, reports show that the government still harvests organs from political prisoners. And doctors are allowed to do pretty radical experiments that are banned elsewhere. For instance, a Chinese doctor and an Italian doctor are working toward human head transplants, something that is considered ethically unacceptable internationally. And the Chinese doctor even said, “I am a scientist, not an ethical expert.” So that kind of attitude, coupled with corruption, has left the Chinese public very wary of the local healthcare industry.

BASHAM: Right, so that’s got to be adding a special layer of anxiety for parents. June Cheng covers China for WORLD Magazine and provides regular reporting for The World and Everything in It. June, thanks so much.

CHENG: Thanks so much, Megan.

(Chinatopix via AP) In this Sept. 11, 2010 file photo, a child cries while receiving a shot of measles vaccine at a health station in Hefei in central China’s Anhui province. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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