China worries swine flu vaccine campaign faltering

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's vaccination campaign against the H1N1 flu strain is not proceeding as fast as it should be partly because people are needlessly worried about the vaccine’s safety, officials said Dec. 11.

Approximately 125 people in China have died of H1N1 flu, but the country began a mass vaccination program in September and has inoculated more than 32 million people to date, Reuters reported.

That campaign, however, seems to be floundering just as the country heads into winter and ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in February, when millions of people travel back to their home towns — potentially taking flu with them.

"Generally speaking, vaccination work has been proceeding smoothly, but recently progress has been quite slow in some areas," Health Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua told a news conference.

"Experts expect that the next one to two months will be key in the fight to prevent H1N1," he added. "After new year comes the lunar festival, where people will be on the move in large numbers across the country, which will put yet more pressure on preventing the spread of the virus."

Liang Wannian, head of the ministry's health emergency office, said there were several reasons for the slower-than-expected progress in vaccinations, though he did not say how many people they had hoped to reach by this time.

"I don't rule out that some people have worries over the safety of the vaccine," Liang said. "Perhaps our publicity work about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine has not reached everyone it should have.

"We will lose the opportunity to effectively prevent and control the disease if we don't accelerate this campaign," he added.

The government has repeatedly said that the vaccine is safe, as has the World Health Organization.