Vaccine scandals call for stricter control and management
Barely five months after it was revealed a key manufacturer had fabricated records regarding rabies vaccines, we heard solemn vows of a nationwide clean-up and promises that similar lapses would not be repeated. That scandal accelerated the drafting of a law to establish a strict regulatory system covering the research, development, production, distribution and use of vaccines.
If that particular case highlighted the public’s distrust of the way vaccines are made and supplied in our country, what has happened in Jinhu county, Jiangsu province, reveals stunning failures in how vaccines are being administered and how urgent it is the proposed law is introduced to impose the “strictest” regulations on the production and use of vaccines.
Local authorities in Jinhu have confirmed 145 children were administered an expired polio vaccine, attributing it to “chaotic management” on the part of local vaccine administrators in this particular case. But suspicious parents in the county insist that such a mess is longstanding, and involves an unknown number of other vaccines.
As in similar cases in the past, more than a dozen officials have been dismissed, or are under probe. And a broader investigation is to follow.
The local authorities are trying to reassure the public further worries are uncalled for, but unless there is solid proof that this was indeed a one-time mistake as they claim, it will be difficult to convince the incredulous public with vaccination records, because as shown by the earlier scandal, such records are at best poor or misleading, especially when it comes to the production dates, the current focus of public suspicions.
In this instance, it may be that the problem can be traced back to chaotic everyday management at local disease control and prevention agencies, which has much to do with the awkward role disease control and prevention agencies are assigned in the national public health regime.
In that case it will be difficult to determine to what extent responsible individuals, agencies, or institutional arrangements are to blame.
While expired vaccines may not cause direct, immediate adverse health effects, inadequate immunization may expose people to harmful, potentially fatal, medical conditions. So it is natural that people are worried, especially parents.
Each new scandal drains public confidence in vaccines, even the broader authorities. And that long-term accumulation of mistrust may prove very harmful.
Clearly the proposed law on vaccines cannot be introduced soon enough. And when it is, it must be implemented to the letter.