Panicked parents in China have revved into over-drive after a health scare concerning improperly stored and even expired vaccines. Shots such as those for cerebrospinal meningitis are scarce or missing, and one mother in Cuangzhou in the Guangdong province has been seeking to obtain the vaccine for months. The vaccine needs to be given when a child is six months old, but so far, the mother has had no success in finding it. She has been told to keep waiting, as the vaccine is completely out of stock.
Certain vaccines are required by the Chinese government. They are obtained at no cost, but there are no supplies of these to be had. A worker stated that, as of July, the vaccine shortage has been critical for several days. There is no guarantee that the necessary vaccines will be in stock in the coming week, either. Vaccine shortages for both tetanus and pertussis are becoming critical. The Chinese manufacturer of the Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccine does not plan to continue producing this essential vaccine because of low demand among adults. The tetanus vaccine is still required for childhood immunizations.
The shortages occurred after new regulations were passed in April, demanding producers be more careful about quality control of the vaccines. Beijing issued a regulation to insure increased oversight of production and distribution, curtailing sales to community clinics and attempting to provide the shots at a provincial level. The procurement mechanism is not in place in some areas, and availability has dried up.
In addition, Pfizer Incorporated is ceasing to sell vaccines in China after the government did not renew a required import license for a particular medication. Prevenar, the vaccine in question, protects children against pneumococcal diseases leading to respiratory infections and pneumonia. China’s environmental hygiene can be somewhat risky and with the dense population, pneumonia is a serious concern. The vaccine is widely distributed around the world by Pfizer, as it is the number two product demanded by their customer base.
Stricter drug importation rules by the Chinese government have resulted in other pharmaceutical companies cancelling their business with China as well.
Beijing has attempted to correct the problem by issuing temporary injunctions allowing vaccine producers direct sales to disease control and prevention centers at county levels. The shortages persist even so, because producers now need to gear up for increased demand, as well as increased quality control of the product.
Chinese parents are so worried that they have taken the situation into their own hands. In some cases, this has resulted in the procurement and sale of illegal vaccines, which are considered improperly stored and labeled. A drug ring involving 37 persons was arrested after $88 million dollars of the tainted drugs were sold to unsuspecting parents. In March a mother and daughter were arrested for selling improperly stored vaccines for five years, sending the vaccines around the country to clueless customers. With no vaccines available, Chinese parents have been forced to seek them independently, and results are not always been positive.
Some parents are scrambling across the border to Hong Kong and Macau for shots. Even this is risky, because experts report that the vaccines supplying the two cities are different than the ones used on the mainland.
Parents in China are frustrated and angry over the debacle with no relief in sight. They are waiting to see officials restore their faith in the mainland public health system.
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