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The ‘Wild East’

Child vaccine scandal focuses attention again on lax ethics in Chinese healthcare

The ‘Wild East’

Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology Co. (Tao Zhang/Getty Images)

Chinese citizens were outraged Monday after a government investigation revealed hundreds of thousands of Chinese children received defective vaccines from a major medical manufacturer, further eroding Chinese citizens’ trust in domestically manufactured medicine.

An inspection of Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology’s facilities this month found the company fabricated production and testing records and falsified production specifications and equipment, according to China’s Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). The fraud affected at least 113,000 doses of Changsheng’s anti-rabies vaccine and more than 250,000 doses of its diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough vaccine.

Many of the substandard vaccines had already been given to children as young as 3 months old as part of a mandatory vaccination program. CFDA called on Changsheng, China’s second largest producer of the rabies vaccine, to stop all production of the vaccine and begin a recall of unused vaccines. No one has reported any complications resulting from the substandard vaccine, yet the scandal is the latest in a long line of tainted Chinese healthcare products. This comes as President Xi Jinping is pushing China to become the leading producer of pharmaceuticals.

Chinatopix via AP

A child receives a vaccine in central China’s Anhui province. (Chinatopix via AP)

Xi, who was in Rwanda when the news broke, called the scandal “terrible and shocking.” Premier Li Keqiang promised to “resolutely crack down on all illegal criminal acts that endanger the safety of people’s lives.” The government detained the chairwoman of Changsheng and 14 others, fined the company more than $500,000 for the defective vaccines, and opened a criminal investigation.

Yet many Chinese citizens have lost trust in the government’s oversight as Li made similar promises after another vaccine scandal in 2016, when 2 million vaccines were found improperly stored or transported. The latest events also recall the milk formula scandal of 2008, when 300,000 infants became ill after drinking tainted formula. Today, many Chinese parents still buy their baby formula from overseas.

China’s healthcare industry has long been known for its lax ethics: China harvested the organs of Falun Gong and other political prisoners, and although the government claimed it stopped the practice in 2015, independent studies found it continues today. China is known as the “Wild East” for biomedical research, according to Foreign Policy, allowing for radical experiments such as human head transplants that the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies called “ethically unacceptable.” Harbin Medical University professor Ren Xiaoping countered: “I am a scientist, not an ethical expert.”

On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, netizens raged against the corruption and lack of ethics in the healthcare industry. One user posted about the defective vaccines, “My home country, how can I trust you? You just let me down again and again,” CNN reported. Another wrote, “Our trust has been overdrawn again and again, it’s so irresponsible for everyone’s life.”

Compliance with ‘Orwellian nonsense

In May, I wrote about China demanding that U.S. airline carriers refer to the democratic island of Taiwan as a part of China. That deadline came on Wednesday, and American Airlines, Delta, and United have bowed to Chinese pressure: The companies removed references to Taiwan on their website and listed only Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. 

Comments

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 08/01/2018 09:38 pm

    Dr. Xiaopeng serves as a stark warning about the danger of materialism, which its proponents almost always apply to others, but not themselves.  Let us see him transplant his own head.

    But more than that, if my son were to say, "I am a scientist, not an ethical expert," I would first go to my pastor and mourn my own parental foolishness, then I would give him the thrashing of his life.  God forbid that I fail to teach him this most fundamental lesson.