Shanxi vows to investigate killer vaccines

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-3-23 2:04:27

By Song Shengxia

In what appears to be a response to public outrage over an alleged vaccine scandal involving four deaths and dozens of cases of illnesses, Shanxi provincial authorities assured the public Monday that experts had been sent to inspect 15 children who were reportedly victims of tainted vaccines.

The response has been seen as a positive turn from the provincial health bureau, which affirmed last week that related media reports were "basically untrue."

Speaking at Monday's press conference, Ju Xianhua, deputy secretary general of the Shanxi government, assured local residents that vaccines in the province are being "strictly monitored and their quality is guaranteed."

He said that, following the latest media reports, the local government had sent experts to check on all 15 children named in the news stories, and would announce later whether their illnesses were connected to the vaccinces.

Shanxi authorities and the Ministry of Health sent experts to investigate the case in 2007 and 2008, without finding any problem with the vaccines, he added.

The vaccination scandal came to light after a report by the China Economic Times on Wednesday said that four children had died and at least 74 others became sick in Shanxi after receiving vaccines for encephalitis, hepatitis B and rabies between 2006 and 2008.

The report said that since 2006 the local health bureau had been selling problematic vaccines that were exposed to summer heat rather than stored in refrigerators as required.

The Shanxi Health Bureau denied the accusations Wednesday, adding that it had checked with 10 children said to be victims and found that one of them had an adverse reaction and died as a result of a vaccination.

The report was "basically untrue," Li Shukai, the local deputy health director, told the Xinhua News Agency.

The China Economic Times, however, stood by its report, issuing a statement two days later saying it had sufficient evidence to back up the claims.

Chen Tao'an, a former information office official with the Shanxi Province Disease Prevention and Control Center, the whistleblower who helped the newspaper with its six-month inquiry and interviews with the families of 36 victims, said he saw boxes and boxes of vaccines piled up in a hot room without air conditioning.

Chen told the Global Times that he was removed from his post and redirected to do cleaning in early 2009.

The Beijing-based Huawei Biomedical company, which owned the exclusive rights for supplying vaccines and distributing them at the center, was later deemed ineligible to conduct vaccine-related business.

The Shanxi government revealed Monday that Huawei has been under investigation for allegedly providing 220,000 yuan for the disease center director, Li Wenyuan, to buy a car.

Meanwhile, a panel consisting of eight experts from China's Ministry of Health (MOH) arrived in Shanxi over the weekend to oversee the investigation of the case.


Parents unsatisfied

Wang Mingliang, whose son Wang Pengcheng died in Febuary 2008 after being among thousands of children allegedly given tainted vaccinations, told the Global Times Monday that he was unsatisfied with the response of local government.

"My hope that had been rekindled just a few days ago is now shattered again. They (the local health bureau) have never talked to me about the case. How could they come to a conclusion?" he said, noting the misery his son's death had caused to his family.

"My only choice is to wait for the result of the investigation by higher authorities. Hopefully they can bring me justice," he said. "Otherwise, I will fight on."

Li Changqin from Liulin county was more fortunate, as the life of his 5-year-old son Jun Jun was spared. But his son's occasional outbreaks of epilepsy, coupled with his inability to repay medical costs, have put the 28-year-old in a state of unending agony.

Jun received the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccine on October 15, 2007. Five days later, he began to show symptoms including serious walking difficulties, headaches and vomiting.

He was diagnosed with brain damage. Hospital treatments have cost more than 60,000 yuan ($8,790), which Li's family is struggling to pay.

He said he had filed a lawsuit with the Yingze district court in February of last year in an attempt to seek justice.

Han Laiping, Wang's lawyer, told the Global Times that both the Yingze district court and the Taiyuan intermediate court have yet to process the case.

"If the vaccines proved to be problematic, victims can claim compensation," he said. "If the vaccines proved to be safe, local officials should explain why they hired an unreliable company to manage the vaccines."

Enraged by local officials' denials, the parents of six children who were said to be victims traveled to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, on Saturday to demand an explanation from the local health bureau, Guangzhou Daily reported Monday.

They were denied a meeting with leaders of the local health bureau and some parents engaged in brief confrontations with bureau staff members.

Following the confrontation, several parents and the whistleblower Chen allegedly received threats and bribery attempts by text message and phone calls Sunday. In a text message to Wang Mingliang, he said someone offered him money to stop talking about the case.

"Don't attempt to find out who I am," the alleged text says. "Our boss asked me to contact you and make it clear: Please don't mess with the vaccine case. If you stop pursuing the case, our boss can give you 100,000 yuan ($14,650) later."

The text also threatened to chop off Wang's leg if he continued pursuing the case.

In a simliar text message sent to Chen, he was offered 50,000 yuan. Chen's wife allegedly received a similar phone call, and he said the speaker had a local accent.

All text messages were sent from 15156752184, a cell phone number registered in Anhui Province.

Guo Qiang contributed to this story


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