I see a lot of children in my practice and I’ve become a bit worried at hearing more and more moms voicing concerns about vaccines made here in China. Apparently the word on the street is that they have more side effects and many parents are considering delaying these vaccines until they go back to their home country, or they try to track down imported vaccines anywhere they can find. Is this reasonable? In general, I don’t think so, personally or professionally, and I’m perfectly fine with giving my 17 month old son the routine schedule with our available vaccines. But I really want the community to hear more reassuring words from other people they trust — their pharmacists. So I interviewed Helen Zhang, the Chair of our pharmacy here at Beijing United Hospital and a registered pharmacist both in China and in the USA (from UCSF). I’ve known her for many years, I trust her advice and I hope you do as well. Here are her answers, and I hope this helps reassure some worried parents:
Why are many imported vaccines no longer available in China?
In 2011, China raised standards for some of the vaccines e.g. antibiotic contents that are remaining in the vaccines. The imported vaccines that did not meet these standards would have to be withdrawn from the Chinese market. Some big global brands are now collaborating with Chinese manufacturers and market vaccines under the Chinese partner: e.g. Novartis took over Tianyuan and upgraded their Quality control in the “new” meningococcal ACWY vaccine. We will see this trend more.
Which vaccines at BJU are imported, which are joint venture made in China, and which are locally made?
Refer to the list attached (Excel spreadsheet)
Is there any evidence that vaccines made in China are more dangerous or less effective than the previously imported vaccines?
Refer to the vaccine FAQ on our website
Which previously imported vaccines are not available in China at all, and people should get in their home countries? (for example, Gardasil, Tdap, rotavirus…)
Previously available but not anymore: Tdap (Boostrix), MMR (imported), Varicella (Imported), DTap. Not yet available: Gardasil, Rotavirus, PCV 13, 6 in 1 vaccine.
The official vaccine schedule for children in China is a bit different than other countries; does this matter at all?
If the child is staying in China for a while, it is recommended to follow the local schedule, e.g. MR vaccine at less than 1 year old because of the epidemics.
If I partially started vaccines in another country and finish here with a locally made vaccine, is it the same effectiveness or do I need to start over? (for example, Twinrix (Hep A+B combo …)
It is best to finish the series with the same brand or type of vaccine. But if it is not available, then using the locally available vaccine will still work and there is no need to start over in most cases.
Finally, what would your major message be to worried parents — do they have anything to worry about, with vaccines made in China?
The Chinese government has made big steps forward to ensure safety and quality of vaccines, e.g. each batch of vaccine now has to go through quality assurance, more transparent surveillance for adverse events, high standards required for vaccine contents, cold chain assurance etc.