World Health Organisation to join Beijing probe into infant deaths linked to vaccine

China representative of the United Nations' health body says it shares Beijing's concerns of infant deaths linked to hepatitis B injections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 4:39am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 6:34am

The World Health Organisation said it will assist an investigation into the role of hepatitis B vaccines in a string of infant deaths, with new suspected cases in Hainan, Hunan and Ningxia.

The WHO's China representative said that the organisation shared the central government's concern over recent reports of infants dying after receiving hepatitis B vaccines, and would continue to work closely with health authorities.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) said yesterday that experts from WHO would be invited to join the investigation and analysis.

The statements came amid a mounting scare over the safety of mainland vaccines following reports of infant deaths after being immunised with domestically made hepatitis B vaccines.

"The health gains of the vaccination programme are enormous and all efforts should be directed towards the continuation of the vaccination programme while ensuring the safety of the vaccines," said Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO's representative in China.

Parents' fears soared after the CFDA and the national health commission announced earlier this month that it had banned vaccines from Shenzhen-based BioKangtai - the country's largest manufacturer of hepatitis B vaccines - following the deaths of four babies in Sichuan , Hunan and Guangdong. Another baby in Hunan became ill after being injected with the vaccine.

Parents reported further deaths suspected of being linked to the vaccines after the news broke nationwide.

Hunan yesterday reported the latest suspected vaccine-related death, saying a two-month-old boy died seven hours after being injected on Wednesday with vaccine produced by an unidentified Beijing manufacturer.

The latest death brought to three the number of suspected vaccine-related baby deaths in Hunan, Xinhua reported. A one-month-old boy died on December 6 and an eight-month-old baby died three days later. The vaccines used in both cases were made by BioKangtai.

Health authorities in Ningxia are investigating the death of a newborn who was administered BioKangtai-made vaccine on Christmas eve, Xinhua reported. Initial investigations could not rule out abnormal responses to the vaccine, Xinhua said.

Deaths of infants were also reported in Gansu , Guangdong, Hubei , Jiangsu , Sichuan and Zhejiang . Manufacturers involved in some of those cases were Beijing Tiantan and Dalian Hissen.

Dalian Hissen halted hepatitis B vaccine production in November for a new Good Manufacturing Practice certification, according to China News Service. Beijing Tiantan said the handling of its vaccines complied with national standards.