Most Chinese people still remember clearly the public outcry over tainted milk in 2008, when more than 300,000 children fell ill, and six died after drinking milk tainted with melamine.
Seven years after the milk scandal broke, Chinese parents have not come out of the “tainted milk shadow,” and have been “outsourcing” baby formula from foreign countries.
The milk scandal in 2008 didn’t become a catalyst for a revolution for food safety in China. The painful loss hasn’t led to a well-established system to supervise and regulate the milk industry. Instead, it has incubated a huge market of shopping agent services for foreign milk in China.
Overseas Chinese people have been purchasing bulk local milk products — baby formulas in particular — and sell them back to the anxious parents in mainland China, which has caused repeated shortages of these products in many countries, such as Australia and Hong Kong.
However, the recent revelation of the faulty vaccines for children has put Chinese parents in an even bigger dilemma. Their immediate thoughts are to outsource safe vaccines produced in other countries, just as they did with the milk; but vaccines are not that easy to obtain.
The subsequent development of a vaccine scandal was predicted, similar to the milk scandal. And it did. On March 31 the Quarantine Bureau of Shenzhen City intercepted 18 packs of imported vaccines carried by Chinese passengers, according to Caijing News. This batch of vaccines was for children, and had been purchased by overseas shopping agents.
Although worried parents are willing to pay a high price for the imported vaccines, the acquisition process poses a substantial risk to the quality of vaccines, since proper refrigeration is necessary in storing and transporting them.
Chinese parents have also started to consider the feasibility of plan B — taking their children outside of the mainland to get vaccinated. The first ideal option is Hong Kong, which has a good public health system, and is relatively easier to access.
Many mothers prefer to take their children to Hong Kong to get vaccinated, and directions on how to obtain vaccinations has gone viral online. In the week following the eruption of the vaccine scandal, appointments for immunizations at the Maternal and Child Health Centers (MCHC) in Hong Kong had a sudden surge, according to Hong Kong Department of Health.
Vaccination appointments at some health centers are fully booked till May, and a doctor told a reporter that the number of people inquiring about vaccinations has doubled. Many worried parents are inquiring whether they can take their children to get vaccinated at the clinics in Hong Kong.
So far the actual number of vaccinations in Hong Kong hasn’t multiplied yet. Nevertheless, the Department of Health in Hong Kong announced on March 30 that starting in April, a quota on the vaccination appointments for children not from Hong Kong would be imposed.
To ensure medical resources first meet the needs of local children, only 120 vaccination appointments in whole of Hong Kong will be available each month for the non-local children, according to Sina News.
Is there a plan C readily available for desperate Chinese parents? Even if there is one, it is very likely to be inefficient and costly. Outsourcing won’t always work. It is the time for Chinese people to look within the country in search for the solution.