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March 3, 2024

Chinese families hit by adverse vaccine reactions call for government probe, aid

Dozens of families who have reported major health problems and deaths after getting vaccinated for various illnesses in recent years are calling on the Chinese government to investigate and offer them assistance.

The Feb. 1 open letter, titled “Suggestions on improving protection from vaccine-induced harm nationwide,” called on the National Health Commission to investigate all cases of major health problems occurring after vaccination, and to call in independent and scientific investigators to probe their claims.

The letter also calls for the government to pay the medical expenses of those left sick or disabled by vaccines, and offer them appropriate levels of care.

“Children and adults alike have sacrificed their health for the overall benefit of the nation, and for disease control and prevention,” the letter said. “We hope the relevant government departments will seek truth from facts and improve the national vaccine injury protection scheme as soon as possible.”

“We look forward to receiving consultation documents and responses regarding this matter at the earliest possible date.”

The government has acknowledged that problems exist with ensuring that vaccines are correctly stored and delivered across the healthcare system.

In 2016, the government brought criminal charges against nearly 200 people and dismissed or demoted hundreds of local officials for allowing tainted vaccines to be given to children, but parents of those affected said the moves didn’t go far enough.

Court refuses lawsuit

The letter came after a court in Beijing refused to accept a lawsuit filed by victims of vaccine-related health issues against the government at the highest level.

“We went to the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court hoping to file a case, but the court refused to accept our lawsuit when it heard that we were going to sue the State Council,” campaigner Tan Hua told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview.

“Then we got a call from the police, warning us on the one hand, trying to maintain stability, and saying they wanted us to lodge our complaint back home,” she said.

Tan said she and some 20 other campaigners had tried to file the lawsuit as a last resort after being prevented repeatedly from petitioning through official channels.

She said they may try to find more affected families to join the lawsuit.

“Judging from the current number of parents and patients [we know of], we estimate that there may be one or two hundred people,” Tan said. “We have doubts about whether these one or two hundred people will be allowed to gather in Beijing to jointly file a lawsuit with the court.”

“The first time we went, we numbered between a dozen and 20 people, but the court wouldn’t accept it,” Tan said. “We are considering whether there is a second or a third wave of people who could campaign with us, but it’s very difficult right now.”

A box of vials containing the rabies vaccine manufactured by the vaccine maker Changsheng Biotechnology, is seen next to a sealed package of the same vaccines to be recalled at a local disease prevention and control center in Huangshan, Anhui province, China in 2018. Credit: Reuters

Tan, who graduated from Shanghai’s Fudan University with a masters degree and once made a good living, began campaigning after suffering epilepsy, sudden deafness and encephalopathy after receiving a rabies vaccine during a pilot scheme in Shanghai nine years ago, she said, adding that the authorities have retaliated against her family for her activism.

Tan’s mother Hua Xiuzhen, a retired Ningbo University lecturer, served a 14-month jail term for helping her campaign, after which the authorities took away her pension and medical insurance.

Held incommunicado

Tan said prominent vaccine-injury campaigner He Fangmei remains incommunicado, after disappearing in October 2019 following a protest in the central province of Henan.

Henan police detained He, who was pregnant at the time on Oct. 9, 2019 after she splashed ink on a government building in Henan’s Hui county for a second time, in protest against unsafe vaccines.

She had made a similar protest on Oct. 2, after which police detained her and handed down a 10-day administrative detention but released her without enforcing the sentence because of her pregnancy.

“I heard via various channels that she’s in extended detention,” Tan said of He. “There was no public trial.”

He’s husband Li Xin recently completed a five-year jail term for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” she added.

He’s detention came after she successfully sued the Hui county Center for Disease Control and Prevention over a faulty vaccine that left her daughter disabled in 2018.

However, she has been repeatedly detained and harassed by the local authorities as she has pursued her complaints, and has been prevented from traveling to Beijing to seek medical treatment for her daughter.

‘Both player and referee’

Tan said the current system is “extremely unfair” to families and patients with adverse reactions to vaccines.

“The Center for Disease Control and Prevention acts as both player and referee in this system, because they have a monopoly on medical resources and on the experts [who appraise them],” she said. “Officially, the rate of adverse events following vaccination are only one in a million, but that’s 100% a disaster for the families.”

“The CDC tells the vast majority of families who have had someone killed or disabled by a vaccine that it’s a coincidence, or that the vaccination is irrelevant to their condition,” she said. “[This is] to evade their responsibilities in these cases.”

Tan said some of the victims are planning to bring a lawsuit against the government.

Adverse reactions to vaccines can spell financial disaster for families, especially if the victim is a breadwinning adult, she said.

The campaigners’ letter to the National Health Commission said an estimated 2,000 children and adults will die, suffer severe disabilities, or suffer organ or tissue damage as a result of abnormal reactions to vaccination every year in China.

It said China typically administers a billion doses of vaccines for various illnesses annually, with a further 3.4 billion jabs delivered for COVID-19 on top of that in the past three years. It said “disputes” that arise when the authorities or medical professionals refuse to recognize that a person’s issues are related to a recent vaccination can “intensify social conflicts.”

Sickness and disability have been reported from a number of vaccines, including those for rabies, liver disease, AIDS and COVID-19 in recent years.

But there are considerable obstacles for anyone seeking redress or compensation.

“It’s hard to get qualified medical experts to provide a more objective assessment of our group’s diseases, because the government issued a directive in 2014 banning any individual or organization from diagnosing abnormal reactions to vaccines,” Tan said. Before that, some doctors would be able to objectively determine whether something was an adverse reaction or not.

“The illegal assessment given to me by CDC has created extreme difficulties for me for the past nine years,” she said. “I want a scientific basis for this claim that my illness has nothing to do with the vaccine.”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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