Vaccine scandal injects worry, anger

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-30 23:33:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

A scandal about improperly handled vaccines, which broke out earlier this month in Shandong Province, has caused panic among the public and exposed loopholes in health regulation. About $60 million worth of vaccines which had expired or had been improperly stored were sold over the past five years in many Chinese cities. How should the government respond to public anger? How can such a scandal be prevented from happening again? The Global Times selected three pieces on this matter.

State Council efforts rebuild public trust

On Monday, China's State Council established a joint investigation team to look into the devastating vaccine scandal, which shows the government's determination in this matter.

From the length of this problem and the huge amount of money involved, we can see the serious loopholes in the vaccine regulation and supervision process.

Similar scandals erupted in 2010 and 2013. The latest case in Shandong also covers this time frame, which shows that the previous scandals were not dealt with properly and their impact still lingers.

The role of the investigation team, as stated in the State Council announcement, is to thoroughly investigate the flow and usage of problematic vaccines and to raise suggestions for vaccine regulation and supervision.

The two aspects are complimentary. How the vaccines are sent and are used will reflect administrative loopholes during the regulation process. Investigation is the prerequisite of improvement.

After a joint pressure conference held by the China Food and Drug Administration, the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the Public Security Ministry last week, people were still anxious about the case because the planned investigation only focused on illegal operations rather than the authorities' abuses of power.

But obviously, corruption and abuse of power has been involved in the regulation and supervision process, which brewed the conditions for the spread of problematic vaccines. The investigation team set up by the State Council aims to break this conundrum.

The Chinese people are disappointed and resentful over vaccine failures. The high-profile and determined stance of the State Council this time will win back people's hearts. In terms of securing the country's public health, the investigation will provide solutions, which is worth applause.

The investigation will not be hijacked by groups of vested interests. Hopefully, the investigation team will complete its job and make the vaccine scandal become the last case of this kind.

While the public almost lost hope and believed the scandal would be left unsettled, the State Council has brought back hope. As vaccine failures prevailed for years and the credibility of the authorities declines, we expect the pragmatic and efficient act of the State Council will end the vaccine scandals.

Lack of responsibility shock to Chinese

During a press conference last week about the vaccine scandal, Li Guoqing, head of China's food and drug watchdog's drug supervision division, admitted  there were certain loopholes in the regulatory work and there are dead spaces and blind zones for regulation and inspection. Then he claimed that China's regulation system for vaccines had reached the "most advanced" level and called for the public to treat this scandal rationally.

Facing with such a devastating and odious scandal, how can people believe the system has reached an "advanced" level? The words uttered by an official like Li were really disappointing because he showed no sign of being regretful and taking on responsibilities.

The design of the regulation system might be relatively advanced. After all, the system has passed the professional assessment of the WHO. Nonetheless, no matter how advanced the system is, the responsibility lies with people and professional departments. The fundamental reason may thus be that people in charge neglected their duty or abused their power.

The supply of vaccines is supposed to be regulated by a serious and strict system, given that it matters to public health. From the vaccine's production and sale to the inoculation of children, the steps should be able to be tracked. However, every procedure during the whole process seems to have been unsupervised.

A woman, surnamed Pang, who the case centered on, was not qualified to handle vaccines and had previously been found guilty of a similar crime but was given a suspended jail sentence. How could she buy such a large sum of vaccines while escaping government inspections? Why did her clients buy the vaccines from her even though they knew the drugs had problems? Li was supposed to ease these public doubts.

The regulatory system is fragile. People are complaining about food insecurity and environmental pollution, while they can do nothing about it. The essence of the problem is the lack of regulation by the government. Under the current regulations, even a well-intentioned system cannot function properly.

Through media exposure, we hope that all people involved in the scandal can be held accountable, especially regulatory staff who have abused their power.

It is absurd to say that China's vaccine regulation is advanced, as officials showed no intention to take on responsibilities or show respect for the life of the public.

Past time to tackle national fears head-on

A few days after the vaccine scandal was exposed, an emotional article about vaccines became popular on WeChat, China's Twitter-like social network. The vaccine crisis, which started due to problems with vaccines, has also been used by those deliberately making waves.

Places where no problematic vaccines were found are eager to show their innocence, while cities where the scandal was exposed remained silent. But such silence is tarnishing the government's credibility, which is already on the edge of the cliff.

There has been no official statement to ease the public's concerns. People were not told what kinds of vaccines had problems, what harm they would cause, and where they had been sent. Those living in fear only want a response from the authorities. Is it that difficult?

If the public's panic continues, it may generate more disastrous impact than the vaccines. Although I am not a victim of the vaccines, I still feel hurt by people's painful emotions.

Fearing death is nothing to be ashamed of. When everything remains uncertain, why do authorities turn a deaf ear to people's calls?

After a series of scandals that matter to people's livelihood happened, be it the toxic milk powder, smoggy air or swill-cooked dirty oil, people cannot be indifferent toward their everyday necessities.

People want to live decent lives. There is nothing wrong in longing for the safety of food and medicine. It is also natural for people to want to live in an environment free of pollution.

But when authorities do not listen to public call and people's basic demand cannot be secured, extreme sentiments will be brewed.

Now people are subject to the harm caused by both faulty vaccines and panicky sentiments. Sadly, it is far more difficult to get rid of the fright than getting over the vaccine issue. Before the vaccine scandal is solved, we should not give way to our own sentiments.

We call on the government to solve the vaccine problems as soon as possible and at the same time tackle public fears. People are waiting for the truth, even as they breathe toxic air and chew food made with swill-cooked dirty oil.

Tianfu Opinion

Posted in: Viewpoint

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