Vaccine shortage leaves Chinese parents scrambling, some travelling to Hong Kong and Macau for injections

Some families are heading over the border to Hong Kong for shots, as mainland authorities try to overhaul procurement system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 2:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 3:44pm

Parents across mainland China continue to struggle with a shortage of vaccines as central government authorities try to overhaul the supply system in the wake of a health scare involving expired or improperly stored shots.

One mother in Guangzhou in Guangdong province has been trying to obtain a shot for her eight-month-old baby to protect against cerebrospinal meningitis. Ideally, the vaccine should be ­administered when the child is six months old. But she’s not had any luck.

“I have been calling the community clinic time and time again since May, and they always tell me that the vaccine is out of stock,” the Yangcheng Evening News quoted her as saying. “They told me to keep waiting.”

A medical worker at the Qiao­ya Community Health Centre, also in Guangzhou, told the Nanfang Daily there were no supplies of type 1 vaccines – shots required by the government and which are free.

“The shortage has been in place for some days. You can come to check next week, but I can not guarantee they will be available,” the worker was quoted as saying.

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The scarcity has led some parents in the province to take their children over the border to Hong Kong and Macau to have the ­injections.

But mainland experts advised against this, because the type of vaccine and the manufacturers that supplied the two cities were different from what was used on the mainland, domestic media ­reported yesterday.

In March, the food and drug administration in Shandong province revealed that a mother and daughter had sold expired or improperly stored vaccines for five years, with the shots being sent across the country.

The next month, Beijing issued a revised rule for vaccine management aimed at strengthening oversight of production, distribution and administration. It required producers to stop selling to community clinics, ensuring the shots could be bought at the provincial level instead. But the procurement mechanism is not ready in some areas.

There have since been reports across the country of shortages of both the type 1 vaccines and the elective type 2 shots.

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In a bid to correct the problem, Beijing last month issued a temporary rule that allowed producers to sell directly to county-level disease control and prevention centres. It will remain in effect until the end of the year.

But the shortage persists because in some cases, producers need more time to meet the demand. At the centre for disease control and prevention in Dongguan, for instance, the free, mandatory shots will not be available until next month, according to its website.

Experts from the provincial centre for disease control said the shortage of type 1 vaccines was due to the regulation issued in April, which had caused producers to be stricter about quality control, driving down output.