Ministry of Health reopens investigation into suspect vaccines stored in Shanxi

Zhuang Pinghui
23 March 2010

The Ministry of Health has reopened an investigation into whether improperly stored vaccines in Shanxi were linked to the deaths of four children and illnesses in 74 others following media reports and a public outcry.

A group of eight experts has arrived in Shanxi to “assist and guide the investigation” and will examine children said to have been affected. China Economic Times reported last Wednesday that Shanxi’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had, between 2006 and 2008, improperly stored vaccines in rooms without air-conditioning, transported them in trucks without cooling systems and then let them be administered to children.

According to a statement from Health News, a newspaper affiliated with the Ministry of Health, posted on the ministry’s website, the investigation will focus on whether the vaccines were stored in high temperatures, the number of children who fell ill after taking the vaccines and whether the rate of complications was unusually high.

The provincial government called a press conference yesterday which lasted less than 20 minutes. Officials brushed aside most reporters’ questions. Ju Xianhua, deputy secretary general of the Shanxi provincial government, said at the press conference that the government had conducted an investigation of the children’s cases and the result would be released soon.

He admitted misconduct by Li Wenyuan, the former director of the Shanxi CDC, who did not go through a bidding process when he invited a private company to supply non-compulsory vaccines and hired the head of the company to be in charge of vaccine distribution. Li was removed from his post at the end of last year, Ju said.

Shanxi’s health department had been under fire since China Economic Times, a newspaper affiliated with the State Council, published last week’s lengthy report by investigative reporter Wang Keqin.

Within a day, the department published two statements via Xinhua saying that “problematic vaccines” had been found to be safe during two investigations in 2008 following a tip-off by former Shanxi CDC spokesman Chen Chaoan.

The statements, calling Wang’s report “basically untrue”, also mentioned that 15 children mentioned in the report had been located and that faulty vaccines were ruled out as a cause of their conditions. But the newspaper fought back, saying Wang’s report was backed by half a year’s investigation and interviews. It also questioned the health department’s account, saying the children in the report had been referred to using pseudonyms and neither the paper nor Wang had been contacted.

Wang published details of dozens of affected children in his blog on Sunday, along with the telephone numbers of their parents.

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