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China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s hep­ati­tis B vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram is nec­es­sary to pro­tect chil­dren from in­fec­tion, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion says.

China’s vac­cines are pro­duced and reg­u­lated in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, and the hep­ati­tis B vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram is vi­tal in safe­guard­ing chil­dren against the ill­ness, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Bern­hard Schwart­lander, China rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the in­ter­na­tional health body, made th­ese points dur­ing an in­ter­view with China Daily on Thurs­day.

“Given that the hep­ati­tis B virus is still around, it’s im­por­tant for ba­bies to get vac­ci­nated,” he said.

The WHO Bei­jing of­fice met with the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion on Thurs­day to dis­cuss the lat­est de­vel­op­ments sur­round­ing in­ci­dents in which 11 new­borns have died af­ter be­ing in­oc­u­lated against hep­ati­tis B.

Ac­cord­ing to Schwart­lander, it’s dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish a causal link be­tween the vac­cines and the ba­bies’ deaths since nearly all in­fants in China re­ceive the vac­cine as part of a very suc­cess­ful vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram.

Sta­tis­tics from the com­mis­sion showed that more than 16 mil­lion ba­bies were born in China last year, and 90 per­cent of them were cov­ered by the pro­gram that of­fers hep­ati­tis B vac­ci­na­tions free of charge.

“With­out the im­mu­niza­tion cov­er­age, there might be a rapid in­crease of the disease,” Schwart­lander warned.

China ini­ti­ated the hep­ati­tis B vac­ci­na­tions in 2002 un­der a na­tion­wide im­mu­niza­tion pro­gram that be­gan in 1978 and aims to pro­tect chil­dren from pre­ventable dis­eases.

The vac­cines, which guard against more than 10 dis­eases, are all man­u­fac­tured do­mes­ti­cally, said Zhao Kai, a vac­cine ex­pert and aca­demi­cian with the Chi­nese Academy of Engineering.

Schwart­lander called the pro­gram “very suc­cess­ful”, say­ing that hep­ati­tis B preva­lence among Chi­nese chil­dren un­der the age of 5 is now be­low 1 per­cent. But he con­ceded that some risks from the vac­ci­na­tion can­not be avoided.

Ac­cord­ing to the US Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion, hep­ati­tis B is a very safe vac­cine, and most re­cip­i­ents have no prob­lems with it. Se­vere prob­lems are ex­tremely rare. Dan­ger­ous al­ler­gic re­ac­tions are be­lieved to oc­cur about once in 1.1 mil­lion doses.

“Med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant for the pub­lic to fully un­der­stand the ben­e­fit and risk of the vac­cine, thus en­abling them to make the right choice,” Schwart­lander said.

It’s im­por­tant for gov­ern­ments to keep alert to prob­lem vac­cines and take pre­emp­tive mea­sures, such as sus­pend­ing the prod­ucts dur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, he said. But “vac­cines pro­duced by other reg­is­tered man­u­fac­tur­ers should be trusted,” he added.

Health au­thor­i­ties in Gansu said on Fri­day they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a new hep­ati­tis B vac­cine- re­lated death, the 11th such in­fant death since Novem­ber. In the lat­est case, a baby in Lanzhou died af­ter re­ceiv­ing the vac­ci­na­tion man­u­fac­tured by the Dalian His­sen Bio-Pharm Inc.

Ear­lier, in Loudi, Hu­nan prov­ince, a 2-month-old boy died on Wed­nes­day af­ter re­ceiv­ing a hep­ati­tis B shot pro­duced in Bei­jing. Most of the other deaths oc­curred af­ter vac­ci­na­tions from prod­ucts made in Shen­zhen by the BioKang­tai biotech firm. The use of all BioKang­tai hep­ati­tis B vac­cines has been sus­pended na­tion­wide.

Bern­hard Schwart­lander WHO China rep­re­sen­ta­tive

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