A group of angry Chinese parents and activists have gathered twice in two days outside government buildings in Beijing to protest a recent scandal over defective vaccines, a rare display of public dissatisfaction in the tightly-policed Chinese capital.
The government announced in mid-July they would take disciplinary action over more than 600,000 diphtheria and tetanus (DPT) vaccines, an unknown number of which may have been administrated to children, sparking massive public anger.
Holding signs saying “Vaccine?” and calling for legislation to ensure tighter drug safety standards, more than two dozen protestors gathered outside the offices of the National Health Commission on Monday and the National State Drug Administration on Tuesday.
“Please fulfill the leaders’ instructions. Please give vaccine victims a fair chance,” their signs read.
The two-day protest showed concerns over the vaccine scandal have yet to dissipate, as the Chinese government continues to resist calls to release further information detailing the results of their investigation around the faulty vaccines.
One mother who attended Monday’s protest told CNN she wanted clear answers from the government.
“Until now, they don’t appear to want to solve the problem, so we will definitely be continuing to protest in the future,” said the parent, whose name CNN has chosen to withhold for her safety.
Speaking to CNN, Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon said often people who join in protests in China fear the consequences.
“It is very rare to see people risk their own freedom and safety to start or join a protest (in Beijing),” he said. “I think people in China are always afraid of being watched by the police.”
‘The problem has not been solved’
The mother who attended Monday’s protest said her daughter received a DPT injection in March, which was produced by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, one of two companies to be caught up in the scandal.
Since then, she said her two-year-old has suffered what she claims were severe reactions, and blames the faulty vaccine.
“I paid for the treatment myself and I haven’t been told (of the cause of the reaction),” she told CNN. “The government said that they need to wait for a report … They said my child’s condition has nothing to do with the vaccines, but all the previous examinations by the hospital didn’t find any problems.”
On July 26, the Chinese Center for Disease Control said it had tested the faulty vaccines and while they were “substandard” they were considered safe.
Since the scandal became public knowledge earlier this month, an immediate investigation was launched by Chinese authorities into the safety of the defective medicines.
However despite their quick response, the Chinese government has brooked little criticism of their efforts.
The word “vaccine” was among the most restricted on China’s social media platform Weibo in the days after the scandal broke, according to the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
Meanwhile China’s state media has published numerous articles citing scientists stating the vaccines were safe, though ineffective.
Two health scandals in a month
China’s government has been trying to rebuild the public’s faith in its medical and food industries, after a series of scandals over recent decades tainted perceptions about the quality of Chinese goods.
Poon said the public anger seen in the protests was due to the lack of preventative government action promised in the wake of prior food and drug safety scandals.
“It seems the government hasn’t been able to contain (the problem) and haven’t been able to eliminate such incidents from happening again. So people are very much fed up,” he said.
The defective vaccines were one of two major crises over faulty Chinese medical products in a month, after an active ingredient in the commonly-used heart medicine Valsartan was recalled worldwide.
At least 22 countries were caught up in the recall across Europe and North America, after thousands of batches of the ingredient were discovered to contain N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), an organic chemical which belongs to a family of potent carcinogens.
On Sunday, Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals (ZHP), the supplier of the ingredient, announced it had also recalled all of the medicine from across China.
Following the revelation, China’s Food and Drug Administration said it had conducted a screening of all the country’s suppliers of the Valsartan ingredients, including ZHP.