China sent health experts to investigate the drug maker Biokangtai today to see if several recent deaths of babies were related to a vaccine they received in a government immunization program. The inquiry was launched after provincial and health authorities separately reported that since November, about a half-dozen babies died shortly after receiving hepatitis B vaccine made by Biokangtai. One case has been ruled out while the others are still being investigated.
Chinese health authorities suspended the use of Biokangtai's hepatitis B vaccine last Friday after the first deaths of babies were reported. The vaccine had been given out to children for free under the government's program. In a statement earlier this month, Biokangtai said it was confident of the safety of its products and that the deaths could be caused by underlying diseases that coincidentally began showing symptoms after the vaccinations. The China's chief epidemiologist says he's not taking the company's word for it. "They may be trying to protect their self-interest." (Read more China stories.)