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Friday 28th October 2016

Fears over China measles jab

17th September 2010

Health officials across China are in the middle of administering a huge immunisation programme against measles, in a bid to eradicate the disease by 2012.


The largest ever vaccination programme in the country's history comes against the background of widespread public mistrust in health officials and the pharmaceutical industry.

Media reports have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the home-manufactured measles jabs, especially in the wake of a tainted vaccine scandal which was exposed by an investigative journalist in March.

China's pharmaceutical industry is highly lucrative but poorly regulated, resulting in a string of fatalities blamed on counterfeit or shoddy medications in recent years.

The report in the China Economic Times said that improperly stored vaccines administered by health officials in the northern province of Shanxi.

The vaccines, for encephalitis, hepatitis B and rabies between 2006 and 2008, killed four children and sickened more than 70 others, with tainted vaccinations being used as late as March 2009, the report said.

In recent years, government unwillingness to make public crucial information about health scares and epidemics, including SARS, bird flu and last month's cholera outbreak, has led to a growing sense of anger and mistrust.

Officials' handling of food safety scandals, including the suppression of complaints and lawsuits from parents with babies affected by the melamine-tainted milk scandal of 2008, has fuelled anger and mistrust.

Ordinary Chinese are now openly questioning the voluntary vaccination of more than 95 million children for measles.  

According to Robin Nandy, Senior Health Advisor for Emergencies at UNICEF, the reaction brings to the forefront the importance of transparent communication from the government and its agents.

He said the plethora of different information sources meant however that there was also a lot more scope for the spread of misinformation.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the Chinese government had been slow to improve communication, and tended to stick to traditional methods of policy implementation.

But Andrea Gay, executive director of children's health at the UN Foundation and former resident of China said the questioning tone was a good thing, and showed that people were more confident about asking questions of the authorities.

She said no child would be vaccinated where the parents had not signed a permission slip.  

Disease control official Hao Yang said China had already eradicated smallpox and polio, and planned to eliminate filariasis and measles by 2012.

Health ministry officials received reports of 52,000 measles cases nationwide in 2009, a fall of 60.1% from the 131,000 cases in 2008, official media reported.

China's former top drug regulator was executed in 2007 for taking millions of dollars in bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 people.

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