China vaccine scandal dents confidence in health services

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Media captionOne of the firms at the centre of the scandal was challenged by the BBC's Robin Brant, who was told to leave

They postponed the jabs while they tried to find more information about the drug suppliers online, but Pu Suyue's Mum said she had no choice in the end.

Her four-year-old daughter needed the inoculations before she could start school. That's why we saw them coming down the stairs from the clinic on the second floor of an office block in a neighbourhood of Jinan in eastern china.

The public did not know about the investigation into the illegal vaccine-network that had been going on for almost a year after the women accused of masterminding it were arrested in April 2015. But since amateur footage of officials raiding a warehouse where some of the drugs were kept was released a few days ago, parents across China have been worried.

Four-year-old Suyue's mother told the BBC: "I hope the government can be more strict about the system… We chose to trust the local clinic after doing another round of research."

Image caption Children in China must have inoculations before startingschool

Others have anxieties about what the nurses may be injecting into their children, or what they might have had in the past. But practical considerations have taken precedence.

The father of three-year-old Zhang Aiyi stopped to talk to us in the street and said "we are concerned about the vaccine problem, but we have to do it as each child has a vaccine record".

As his wife held their daughter he said: "I am not too concerned about whether the vaccine is invalid, we are more worried if the vaccine is poisonous."

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made it clear that that is unlikely to be a problem, with few or no side-effects for anyone who has taken the illegal traded vaccines. The bigger concern is the potential for an outbreak of the diseases the drugs were meant to prevent, because their improper storage and transport may have rendered them useless.

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Image caption Officials have been checking vaccination centres across China

Jinan is at the epicentre of the investigation. A biotech firm with an office in a shabby building at the foot of a block of flats near the centre of the city, is the focus of police attention.

When I walked through the door of Shandong Zhaoxing Bio Tech. Ltd there were a handful of people around desks in a few rooms. They did not want to answer our questions.

A doorman forced my camera operator out. A woman said "sorry, sorry" as she pushed me back to the entrance, and refused to say if they had been involved in the illegal vaccine trade.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Thousands of lives are saved every year by vaccines

State TV showed images of drug administration inspectors calmly looking through unsealed boxes. A few days ago angry and confused people were debating the issue on social media.

China's premier was hosting leaders of some of the worlds biggest corporations on the day news of the vaccine scam broke. Li Keqiang released a brief statement, calling for a review and urging the police to make sure the guilty are punished.

But trust in China's public health authorities has been dented, again.

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