Self-identified Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is touring the country and selling her promise of a socialist paradise with guaranteed jobs, free college, and of course, free healthcare for all. By sheer coincidence, a public health crisis is unfolding in China right now which shows the deep-rooted flaws of socialized medicine.
In China, vaccine production is heavily subsidized by the government and vaccines are given to children through the government’s mandatory vaccination program. Sounds pretty good, right? But last Friday, Chinese Food and Drug authorities revealed that one Chinese drug company, Jilin-based Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology, has sold about 252,600 substandard DPT vaccines — used to prevent diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus — to the Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a government agency in charge of public health for about 100 million people.
The inferior DPT vaccines were given to an unknown number of Chinese babies, some as young as three-months old. This latest revelation came merely five days after the authorities disclosed the same drug company has forged testing and production data on 113,000 rabies vaccines it produced and sold.
Unfortunately, Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology isn’t the first Chinese drug company that has pushed substandard products to Chinese children through a government compulsory health program. Chinese children were frequently given inferior vaccines in the past.
The Guardian reports: “In 2016, $90m in vaccines were found to be stored improperly in Shandong province. The year before, hundreds of children in Henan province reportedly fell ill after being given out-of-date vaccines. In 2010, a newspaper in Shanxi province reported unrefrigerated vaccines had killed four children.”
Only last November, another major Chinese vaccine maker, the state-run Wuhan Institute of Biological Products sold 400,520 inferior DPT vaccines to several local government agencies, which were then given to countless children through the state-run vaccination programs. Every time, officials denied there were problems with vaccines at first and were quick to punish media who dared to report these scandals — the editor of the newspaper that reported the story in Shanxi was fired immediately.
The Chinese government insists that there are no reports of any children falling ill after being given the latest batch of substandard DPT vaccines. But in a country where there is no freedom of press and bad news is heavily censored by the government, we don’t know if it is true no children were affected by these substandard vaccines, or if the government simply suppressed any negative reports from the public eyes.
Had these drug companies operated in a free market like the U.S., they probably would stop production immediately, face criminal charges, and quickly be forced out of business. Competition in a free market will weed out companies that attempt to sell inferior products and thus leave consumers with better choices.
But in China, with a government that controls medical resources and subsidizes the cost, there is little accountability. The Chinese Food and Drug authority that regulates drug companies has so far failed to explain how these inferior vaccines made it into state run vaccination programs without being caught. Even after the revelation of the latest scandals, the drug companies involved received only very light punishments.
Wuhan Institute only paid an undisclosed fine for its DPT scandal and it continues business as usual. The State Drug Administration revoked Bio-technology’s license to produce the rabies vaccine, but the company is still licensed to produce other vaccines. As for its DPT vaccine scandal, the company paid a fine of 3.4 million yuan ($502,200), which is pocket change for a company which reported 566 million yuan ($90 million) in net profits last year.
Despite the scandals, the company received new government subsidies in 2017 — not surprising since the biopharmaceutical industry is one of the key industries that have received large sum of subsidies through the government’s “Made-in-China 2025” initiative. With the government virtually guaranteeing to purchase their products and penalties for any misbehavior so light, these drug companies have little incentive to enforce strict quality control of their products in order to meet standards.
Instead, they spend their money and time on bribing regulatory officials in order to get their products approved quickly with little to no testing. China’s pharmaceutical industry and its regulators are some of the most corrupt in the nation.
The Chinese government, while punishing the drug companies gently, spends its energy and resources on censoring Chinese parents from complaining about the vaccine scandals or even researching any vaccine related information. The South China Morning Post reports that “state media has accused some groups of overblowing the issue and the government has reportedly banned coverage of the vaccines.”
Thus, “the Chinese word for ‘vaccine’ was one of the most restricted” on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. The Chinese government also bans coverage of the latest vaccine scandal in print media. Several parents who led protests have been detained and questioned by the police. Out of desperation, some Chinese parents began to post comments on the U.S. embassy’s website to avoid Chinese censors.
Between the tainted milk scandal several years ago that made 300,000 babies sick and the current vaccine scandal, Chinese parents are fed up. They no longer trust the authoritarian government that promises it knows what’s best for Chinese people. One infuriated mother asks, “Can we now only ensure our children’s health if we give them imported food and imported medicine?”
The Chinese government can prevent people from complaining openly, but it can’t stop Chinese people from voting with their feet. Many desperate Chinese parents with means have taken their children to Hong Kong to get vaccinated, which reminds me that during the height of the tainted milk scandal, Chinese parents went to Hong Kong to purchase infant formula, causing an infant formula shortage.
Back then, when I asked my relatives what gifts they wanted when I visit them, “infant formula” was top of the list. Now with the vaccine scandals, Chinese parents once again choose to trust a free market economy like Hong Kong.
Chinese people are not the only ones who desperately want to get out of a government-run healthcare system. Socialized medicine, no matter where it is implemented, is known to fail its patients with substandard care. Just ask the Canadians who are tired of waiting and travel to the U.S. for medical treatments, or ask Americans like myself who are forced onto Obamacare by paying ever higher premiums with ever fewer service choices.
Ocasio-Cortez recently said that healthcare for all requires moral courage. But socialized medicine is inherently immoral. Lacking choice and accountability, patients receive only substandard care. Thus, the true moral courage Ocasio-Cortez needs is to admit socialized medicine doesn’t work. Given the undeniable evidence from China and other nations, the solution to our healthcare is not to try more socialized medicine, but to liberate medical resources from federal control and return choice back to the American people.