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Chinese hepatitis B vaccines are safe: WHO

29 December, 2013

ISLAMABAD: China's vaccines are produced and regulated in accordance with international standards, and the hepatitis B vaccination program is vital in safeguarding children against the illness, according to the World Health Organization.

Bernhard Schwartlander, China representative for the international health body, made these points during an interview with China Daily on Thursday.

"Given that the hepatitis B virus is still around, it's important for babies to get vaccinated," he said.

The WHO Beijing office met with the National Health and Family Planning Commission on Thursday to discuss the latest developments surrounding incidents in which 11 newborns have died after being inoculated against hepatitis B.

According to Schwartlander, it's difficult to establish a causal link between the vaccines and the babies' deaths since nearly all infants in China receive the vaccine as part of a very successful vaccination program.

Statistics from the commission showed that more than 16 million babies were born in China last year, and 90 percent of them were covered by the program that offers hepatitis B vaccinations free of charge.

"Without the immunization coverage, there might be a rapid increase of the disease," Schwartlander warned.

China initiated the hepatitis B vaccinations in 2002 under a nationwide immunization program that began in 1978 and aims to protect children from preventable diseases.

The vaccines, which guard against more than 10 diseases, are all manufactured domestically, said Zhao Kai, a vaccine expert and academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Schwartlander called the program "very successful", saying that hepatitis B prevalence among Chinese children under the age of 5 is now below 1 percent.

But he conceded that some risks from the vaccination cannot be avoided.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis B is a very safe vaccine, and most recipients have no problems with it. Severe problems are extremely rare. Dangerous allergic reactions are believed to occur about once in 1.1 million doses.

"Medical education is important for the public to fully understand the benefit and risk of the vaccine, thus enabling them to make the right choice," Schwartlander said.


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