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Editorial: Lack of transparency breeds skepticism

( Updated: 2016-03-23 18:19

Editorial: Lack of transparency breeds skepticism

A Chinese medical worker prepares to vaccinate a young kid at a hospital in Shanghai, China, March 20, 2016. [Photo/IC]

Nothing has caught a nerve in China quite like the latest vaccine scandal.

The failed endeavors to contain the ripple effects are teaching the same old, unlearned lessons:

That, in our time of social media, withholding information is self-defeating and worsens the credibility drain.

That no cover-up can withstand sustained public curiosity.

That there is no better crisis control than timely information sharing.

With plenty of questions still unanswered regarding the sources and whereabouts of all the vaccine products in question, the authorities have nobody but themselves to blame for the disbelief and mistrust they face.

They have had authoritative medical professionals at home clarify that vaccines transported and stored in unrefrigerated conditions are not deadly by themselves, being at worst invalid.

They have even had the World Health Organization assure unnerved Chinese parents that inappropriately stored or expired vaccines are not harmful and to encourage them to continue vaccinating their children.

Yet everything that is from the authorities, everything that is meant to clarify, to reassure, is being taken with a grain of salt.

That 25 human vaccines, which are supposed to be transported and stored in refrigerated conditions, by authorized dealers, under strict government oversight, have been illegally bought by unlicensed private sellers, stored and transported without being refrigerated, and distributed before the eyes of disease control agencies is certainly a matter for every parent to worry about.

Particularly as the problem has existed for five years and involves 24 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions, and particularly as the individual who headed the network had already received a sentence for illicitly dealing in vaccines, and committed the same offense during her five-year probation.

The matter appears even more upsetting when other recent scandals related to vaccines are taken into account. Although the reported claims of fatalities and symptoms as a result of problematic vaccines have largely been announced "groundless" after official investigations, they have repeatedly exposed the same irregularities we are seeing today.

In our face is no longer another case of "competent authorities" being incompetent. Although dereliction of duty is evident throughout, corruption should be a main focus of the ongoing investigations. After all, we have the clue that rent-seeking is rampant in the vaccine business. There is no excuse for the probe to not pursue that "grey chain of interests".

Looking back on what has gone wrong is embarrassing. Acknowledging it may be demeaning. But underplaying or simply looking aside from the root causes has cost the authorities dearly. And will prove more costly, because this is a matter of life and death, not merely disguising management dysfunction.

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