Following a string of high-profile vaccine scandals in recent years, Gāo Fú 高福, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recently urged the public not to lose trust in domestically produced vaccines.
Gao made the remark at a March 4 press conference connected to the Two Sessions, the country’s biggest annual political meeting, which is currently taking place in Beijing.
When asked about how China can eradicate faulty vaccines and ensure public health, Gao said (in Chinese) that “vaccine and vaccine problems are two separate issues” that shouldn’t be discussed together. Gao then proceeded to give a variety of excuses for why the government isn’t to blame for several high-profile safety failures in recent years.
As to the 2016 scandal in Shandong Province, Gao said that the compromised vaccines were of good quality when produced, but they were not adequately refrigerated before appearing in the markets in 24 provinces and cities. Regarding the news about Changchun Changsheng, a vaccine producer in Jilin Province, which was caught producing and selling hundreds of thousands of substandard vaccines in 2018, Gao stressed that the firm was the one to blame for its shoddy production. Commenting on the recent vaccine scandal in Jiangsu, where 145 babies received defective vaccines at a health center, Gao said the expired vaccines were given to medical facilities by health officials, which is a case of misconduct by human beings.
“Every problem regarding Chinese-made vaccines is specific,” Gao said. “As head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, I can inform the public in total confidence that Chinese-made vaccines are good!”
Admittedly, in the past decade, China has witnessed a remarkable growth in its vaccine industry, with a number of companies becoming major forces in inventing and manufacturing vaccines in the global market. According to Gao, China is on a par with developed countries in terms of vaccine development and is gradually taking the lead in this effort. “We are determined to solve every issue regarding our vaccines. Please don’t lose confidence in Chinese-made vaccines,” Gao declared.
Since the 2008 melamine-laced milk powder scandal, the Chinese government has been constantly under fire for its inability to protect public health. After the Changchun Changsheng vaccine scandal last year, the level of public trust in Chinese-made vaccines and other medical products crashed to an all-time low.
Given the general atmosphere of distrust, Gao’s optimism seems poised to be dampened, as it’s almost impossible for average citizens to talk about the topics of vaccine development and the safety of vaccines individually. Gao’s response also raised questions over his reluctance to address the safety issue directly, which arguably concerns the public much more than medical advancement in vaccine research. As one Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), “I personally can’t applaud China’s progress in vaccine development while living with the risk of being sickened by faulty vaccines.”