Chinese vaccine makers are gearing up to boost their exports over the next few years. The move is raising hopes that lower-cost immunizations will become available for the world’s poor — as well as fears that vaccine quality standards will be threatened.
As USA Today reports, China captured world attention in 2009 when one of its companies developed the first effective vaccine against swine flu in just 87 days.
The way was opened for China to jump into the global vaccine business in a big way this March when the World Health Organization announced that the nation’s drug safety authority meets international standards for vaccine regulation. That means that Chinese vaccines can be submitted to the WHO for approval to be bought by United Nations agencies and the GAVI Alliance, which provides vaccines to children in poor countries.
Still, Chinese vaccines will continue to face skepticism, said a representative of Sinovac, the Chinese biotech firm that developed the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. “We think the main obstacle is that we have the name of ‘made in China’ still. That is an issue,” she said.
As USA Today noted, China has endured repeated food and drug safety scandals. In 2007, Chinese cough syrup killed 93 people in Central America. A year later, contaminated blood thinner led to dozens of U.S. deaths, and tainted milk powder killed six Chinese babies and poisoned hundreds of thousands of others.
Last year, a Chinese newspaper report linked improperly stored vaccines to four children’s deaths in northern Shanxi province, raising nationwide concern, although the nation’s health ministry said the immunizations were not the cause of the fatalities.