Funding cuts blamed for vaccine blunders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2005, 12:00am

Funding cuts for health-care providers are at least partly to blame for vaccine blunders on the mainland, insiders say.

An official with Shandong's Centre for Disease Control told the South China Morning Post yesterday only 20 to 30 per cent of staff salaries were covered by the government and the remainder had to be obtained from other sources.

'The process of 'weaning' health-care institutes off government finances since the early 1990s has led to the commercialisation of most such centres at the village to county level,' he said.

The push for profits has been linked to the death of a four-year-old last month in Anhui's Si county. The girl was one of 2,500 students from 19 schools in Dazhuang township who received hepatitis A vaccinations.

Forty of more than 300 students who were sent to hospital after receiving the inoculations had yet to be discharged, Xinhua reported yesterday.

According to the report, the Dazhuang Township Disease Prevention Institute bought the vaccines from an unauthorised vendor for 4.5 yuan a shot and charged each student 25 yuan to be immunised.

A local official admitted the vaccines were spoiled in transit because township health officials tried to save money by not shipping them in refrigerated vehicles.

The insiders said the profit-oriented model threatens lives and conflicts with central government calls for free immunisation.

In a national plan launched in 1995, the Ministry of Health mandated that every child at the township level should receive free vaccinations against poliomyelitis, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis and tetanus. A 2002 amendment added hepatitis B.

However, the Shandong official said the vaccinations covered by the plan were not free and the need for each department to meet profit quotas led to the wide commercial promotion of other vaccines.

'Local institutes invariably will exhaust every means to make money,' she said, adding that if departments did not meet their revenue targets, money would be deducted from each staff member's pay.

'The central government has banned mass inoculations for fear of large-scale accidents, but most institutes still have a department in charge of school-wide vaccinations, which is one of the most important sources of income.'

An underground wholesale network had been providing cheap vaccines to health-care institutes in Jiangsu , Anhui, and neighbouring provinces for years, South China Metropolis News reported.

The official said that despite a ban, local institutes routinely stocked up on medicine using underground suppliers.