China's measles vaccination plan met with public outrage

Plans to vaccinate 100 million children in China against measles have been met with public outrage, illustrating a growing public distrust of the government’s health care policies in the wake of numerous scandals.

China’s Health Ministry announced its plans last week to adopt the World Health Organization’s measles vaccination plan. Since the announcement, authorities have been flooded with queries and conspiracy theories have begun to circulate that the vaccines are dangerous, the Associated Press reports.

The public distrust comes from a number of recent incidents over recent years. Critics have complained that Chinese health officials were slow to respond to an outbreak of SARS disease in 2003. The inaction led to deep distrust both in China and across the globe.

In a separate case, milk products contaminated with industrial chemicals from two years ago are still turning up on shelves. Approximately 300,000 babies were sickened and at least six died in that case.

The health ministry has been trying to allay the public's apprehension over the recent 10 day measles immunization drive, officials told the Associated Press.

Officials say they have consistently issued statements, refuted rumors and held briefings to emphasize the need for the vaccine as well as its safety.

Despite previous vaccination drives, China recorded 52,000 measles cases last year, including 39 deaths, the Associated Press reports. The disease has been nearly nonexistent in the Americas since 2002. Cases in seven countries in southern Africa fell from 60,000 in 1996 to 117 by 2000, according to WHO statistics.

China Health Ministry officials have repeatedly stressed that the measles vaccine is safe and have tried to assure the public that medical personnel are prepared for emergencies, including any adverse reactions.

Hao Yang, director of disease control for the China Health Ministry, promised that no one would be forced to take the vaccination.

"Vaccination will only proceed after parents sign an agreement,” Yang told the Associated Press. “We heard that some places were linking vaccination with admission to kindergartens and schools. So yesterday we issued a notice that admission to school should never be used to force children to vaccination.”