Monday, December 5, 2011

China to manufacture vaccines for global market

After meeting WHO international standards for vaccine regulation in March, China is now poised to make a splash in the global vaccine scene. Groups like GAVI (which purchases enough vaccines to cover 50 million children annually) are particularly excited about this move, which will result in more favorable prices. China currently produces almost 1 billion doses of vaccines a year.

However, you can't discuss Chinese vaccines without being reminded of their current track record - 2007 saw 93 deaths due to Chinese cough syrup, for example. In 2008, hundreds of thousands of infants were poisoned by powdered milk tainted with melamine; shockingly, even more powdered milk was found to be contaminated in 2009. Suffice to say that scandals like these do not inspire confidence in the ability of Chinese manufacturers to produce safe products in massive quantities.

With that in mind, we can anticipate the need for a regulatory body to ensure that these vaccines continue to be produced to international standards. However, one Chinese health expert, Yanzhong Huang, says that such an agency wouldn't be enough - what China needs is "the market economy, democracy, media monitoring, civil society, as well as a well-developed business ethics code." In short, China needs to change the way it does business before people in the international market will feel comfortable using their vaccines. (This could lead to a whole separate discussion on Chinese society and economy, but that's really beyond the scope of our class, so I'll just change tack here.)

Chinese-produced vaccines will likely be tough to deliver to the American public, if current exemption rates from childhood vaccines are any indication. Relevant comment is relevant:

"If they started producing all vaccines in china and phased out the American made ones I would refuse every last chinese vaccine. If my kid has to go unvaccinated because i dont wanna risk her being killed by a tainted chinese pharmaceutical then so be it. I know if they allow the chinese to produce vaccines the population of unvaccinated children will spike and spiral out of control. This decision will singlehandedly lead to the return of polio and other diseases like smallpox."

Sounds like closed-mindedness with a dash fearmongering, right? Sure, but that doesn't change the possibility that some sub-par Chinese vaccine product will slip through the cracks, especially at the volume at which they'll be produced.

We're going to need some intense regulation of these vaccines, but the manufacturing capacity provided by China's facilities will be a boon to immunization and eradication efforts worldwide.

-Alan Le

P.S. Pardon the lateness! Looking forward to seeing everyone's models :]

Washington Times: China positions itself to become major player as vaccine provider

Monterey County Herald: China to enter vaccine market

No comments: