Inefficient government supervision and the dereliction of duty by officials are mainly to blame for the flaws in the vaccine distribution system exposed by the recent scandal of a criminal network selling improperly stored and expired vaccines.
The fact that the illegal network involved had been operating since 2011 shows problems exist in almost every stage of the vaccine system.
That is why at an executive meeting on April 13, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, not only reiterated it would show zero tolerance toward those held accountable, but also announced tighter regulation of the storage, transportation and use of vaccines.
So far, 357 civil servants have been removed from office or demoted for their role in the illegal selling and use of these vaccines, and further severe punishments are expected to be meted out to crooked officials as the investigation continues.
Strengthening the supervision over the entire vaccine chain is an essential move to help rebuild people’s confidence in the country’s vaccination system and better protect its people, especially children, the largest recipient group, from the potential health hazards posed by substandard vaccines.
There have been reports that concerned parents have held back their children from being vaccinated, showing that any misstep would cost the government its credibility and further undermine confidence in the public health system.
So the plan to set up a tracking system for all vaccines from the factory to the clinic and finally to users is a welcome move, as it will dispel worries over the genuineness of vaccines and ensure their potency and effectiveness.
The scandal also revealed the system had a problem in categorizing vaccines into two kinds, one distributed free to all children through a strictly managed government immunization program, the other provided for private purchase in market. The illegal sales involved vaccines for private purchase not only because of the high profit margins involved in their trading but also for the lack of regulation over them.
Thus the government has taken the right step by promising to treat vaccines under both categories equally.
The government’s swift response to the issues raised by the scandal shows it has been quick to learn the lessons and is resolved to never compromise on issues concerning people’s health.
Immunization is the most effective and economical way to prevent and eradicate diseases, and directly affects people’s health and the quality of their lives. Therefore, there can never be too much government regulation of the sector.