As China's Health Ministry has designated Beijing, Shanghai cities and Guangdong Province as the first places to use the newly produced domestic A(H1N1) vaccine, some epidemic disease experts still argue about its safety.
On Wednesday, Beijing began to have free inoculation of the A/H1N1 flu vaccine for people over 60 years old and students at primary and middle schools. The service, which is available for more than 1.8 million residents, will continue until October 31.
The city has designated 486 clinics providing vaccination services to the elderly. Students will be vaccinated at school.
However, Zhong Nanshan, an academician who is respected for his work in China's fight against the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, warned that "it still needs some time to prove the reliability of the vaccine."
"The vaccine should be put into mass use only after it has been proved safe through tests in many pilot places," Zhong said.
"Though vaccine inoculation is the basic way for the country to prevent A(H1N1) flu, it needs time to see whether it has side effects on the human body," Zhong said.
On Monday, China's State Food and Drug Administration issued the first warrant for mass inoculation with domestic A(H1N1) flu vaccine, the first country in the world to do so. It announced that the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines had been proved in clinical tests.
But the clinical trial period for the vaccine was less than three months, in sharp contrast with the prevailing practices among the international medical community that it takes several years for a safety test.
Zeng Guang, chief expert of epidemic disease research at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told Xinhua that "China has pushed the vaccine development task in a quite urgent way following the serious condition of A(H1N1) outbreak across the nation."
"We admit that the vaccine has some potential risks, as any vaccine inoculation is not 100 percent safe. But we believe it is safer for Chinese people to have the inoculation rather than being vulnerable to the disease," Zeng said.
By Monday, all 31 provinces and municipalities on the Chinese mainland had reported A(H1N1) flu cases, with a total of 5,592.
Although so far nearly 70 percent have recovered and no deaths have been reported, both the World Health Organization and domestic experts say they believe the A(H1N1) flu epidemic will reach a peak in autumn and winter, Health Minister Chen Zhu said Tuesday at a news conference.
Zeng said in order to better monitor the effectiveness of the vaccine, the vaccine producing companies will shoulder the responsibility of collecting the users' information, and make follow-up changes for the vaccine if needed.
He also said if any vaccinated people showed side effects or other negative symptoms, the case will be instantly reported to the local medical authorities which would take timely treatment measures.
"So far, the vaccine is safe and effective," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2009)