Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Urgent to restore trust in vaccines in China, says WHO representative

By Bernhard Schwartländer ( Updated: 2016-03-28 13:20

Urgent to restore trust in vaccines in China, says WHO representative

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

Vaccines have a special role in public health – they are given to healthy children, to prevent serious diseases like hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and bacterial meningitis.

Since the introduction and widespread use of modern vaccines over the last century, hundreds of millions of lives have been saved all over the world.

In many countries, diseases like measles, rubella, and poliomyelitis have been eliminated completely.

Vaccines have become so central to modern public health it would be easy to take them for granted.

But vaccines are complex biologic products, requiring strong regulation and management to ensure that they are manufactured properly, and handled correctly at every step from factory door, to clinic, to child.

Without careful handling, vaccines can lose some of their potency and effectiveness.

Last week's exposure of a criminal ring re-selling vaccines across China has revealed problems in one part of this supply chain – the distribution of vaccines available for purchase on the private market.

The production of vaccines in China is not at issue here. WHO is confident in the manufacturing of all Chinese vaccines, based on over 15 years of working closely with the national vaccine regulators.

WHO conducted in-depth, independent assessment of China's vaccine regulation in 2010 and 2014, finding both times that China's regulatory system meets or exceeds WHO/international standards.

Both the vaccines that are distributed for free to all children through the Government's Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI), and vaccines available for private purchase, are subject to the same stringent regulations on manufacturing.

Thus, all vaccines in China start life the same way – through a process that WHO has certified will produce safe, pure, and effective vaccines.

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