Improperly stored or expired vaccines are unlikely to cause diseases in children, but the vaccine scandal exposed last week may diminish parents’ confidence in vaccination, preventing children from being immunised, Dr Lance Rodewald – a World Health Organisation expert in China – has said.

“If the vaccine vial or prefilled syringe is not damaged, it is extremely unlikely that the vaccine will become contaminated by improper storage,” Rodewald, head of WHO’s expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) in China, said in a press release.

Lance Rodewald
Dr Lance Rodewald. Photo:

Authorities in Shandong province announced last Monday that they had arrested a mother and daughter who had been running an illegal vaccine ring worth RMB 570 million (HK$681 million) since 2011.

Rodewald’s comments contradicted Xinhua’s report that the compromised vaccines had “potential side-effects and may even cause disability and death.”

However, Rodewald said that urgent action was needed to ensure the safety of private vaccinations in China, and highlighted the importance of such investigations.


“The government-distributed, free (EPI) vaccines are distributed through a tightly managed cold chain system,” he said. “The same high standards used to distribute EPI vaccines should be used in the distribution of privately-purchased vaccines. This would ensure that the activities which sparked the current investigation would never be able to happen again.”

“One of the problems with the current events is the risk that parents’ confidence in immunization will be diminished, and they will decline routine vaccination of their children. This would be a terrible outcome – because vaccines are the only way to prevent a range of debilitating, deadly childhood diseases.”

WHO suggests that re-vaccination should be administered if the original vaccine was compromised.

‘Vaccine tourism’

Legislative Councillor Kwok Ka-ki has urged the government to monitor the percentage of non-local babies getting vaccinated in Hong Kong and, if it is higher than 10 per cent, to notify the central government.

kwok ka ki
Kwok Ka-ki. File photo: Wikicommons.

“If eight percent is an acceptable rate and the government says it can handle it, then we can let them handle it. But if it is over ten percent, then it is not good,” he said on RTHK radio.

Kwok said that the number of children coming to Hong Kong for vaccinations have been increasing for some time. He said that according to government figures, there were around 400 cases of non-local children receiving vaccines in Hong Kong, which was about eight to nine percent of the total number of vaccination cases.

Kwok also said that he has never heard about vaccinations quotas for non-local babies and urged the Health Department to clarify. Previously, the Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said that quotas were in place in Maternal and Child Health Centres for vaccinations of non-local children.

Restrictions in Macau

“The vaccinations purchased by the Health Bureau are provided free-of-charge to Macau residents only. They will not be provided for non-Macau residents,” said the Macau Health Bureau in a press release.

“Other people, even if they pay, will not be vaccinated,” said the bureau. “There is sufficient supply for the related vaccinations.”

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.