Vaccine scandal and confidence crisis in China

The Lancet
Aug 04, 2018 Volume 392 Number 10145 p359-450  e6

Vaccine scandal and confidence crisis in China
The Lancet
In July, China experienced its “worst public health crisis in years” as stated by South China Morning Post. Chinese vaccine maker Changsheng Biotechnology was found to have fabricated production and inspection records and to have arbitrarily changed process parameters and equipment during its production of freeze-dried human rabies vaccines. Furthermore, substandard diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) vaccines produced by Changsheng Biotechnology were administered to 215 184 Chinese children; and 400 520 substandard DPT vaccines produced by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products were sold in Hebei and Chongqing. On July 25, China’s drug regulator launched an investigation into all vaccine producers across the country. 15 people from Changsheng Biotechnology, including the chairman, have been detained by Chinese authorities.

This latest vaccine scandal follows on from a series of fake and substandard food and drugs issues in China. As a result, many parents have lost faith in the vaccine system. Although no cases of death or other severe consequences relevant to the substandard rabies and DPT vaccines have been documented as of July 31, the substandard vaccines have been reported as being poisonous in social media and on the internet.

The immediate action to investigate the national vaccine industry is crucial to deal with the vaccine scandal. However, such action alone will not end public distrust and dissent towards vaccines. The national immunisation programme has helped China achieve tremendous health gains. However, the current vaccine confidence crisis seriously threatens this programme.

Above all, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the vaccines produced and used in China are effective and safe. To restore and sustain the public’s confidence in China’s vaccine quality and safety, it is urgent for the government to reflect on and reform where necessary the country’s vaccine regulatory system. A better understanding of the concerns of the public and more transparent and open regulation are essential to protect millions of children from preventable illnesses.