Vaccine safety scandal in China threatens parents’ confidence

Chinese parents are demanding action following reports that hundreds of thousands of children may have received injections of substandard vaccines. Although there are no known deaths or illnesses caused by these vaccines, the news has raised questions about the safety of the country’s booming pharmaceutical industry—and concerns that parents may opt out of vaccinating their children even though it is legally required.

“It takes years to build up confidence and one scandal to break it,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a July 23, 2018 New York Times article.

Bill Hsiao, K.T. Li Research Professor of Economics, sees the scandal’s roots in a history of corruption surrounding China’s pharmaceutical industry. In a July 31 article in Foreign Policy, he said that the thousands of private companies launched since the Chinese government began encouraging domestic vaccine and drug production in the 1990s are prone to collude with local governments to avoid regulatory costs.

Leesa Lin, a researcher who studies social behavior and risk perception in the School’s Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development, told Nature that she thinks Chinese parents’ faith in vaccines is strong enough to withstand the scandal, although parents who can afford to may opt for foreign-made vaccines. She said in a July 30 article that she plans to collaborate on a survey of Chinese parents in the coming months to better understand how they make decisions about vaccinating their children.

Read the New York Times article: In China, Vaccine Scandal Infuriates Parents and Tests Government

Read the Foreign Policy article: Parents’ Fears Are the Chinese Communist Party’s Biggest Nightmare

Read the Nature article: Chinese vaccine scandal unlikely to dent childhood immunization rates

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For world’s poorest, vaccines prevent both deaths and medical impoverishment (Harvard Chan School press release)