Chinese officials probe report on unsafe vaccines

Chinese officials have begun an investigation into the deaths of four children after the China Economic Times reported the use of unsafe vaccines in Shanxi--the latest in a long series of pharma-related scandals.

According to the newspaper, unsafe vaccines have been used in Shanxi over the past four years. The vaccines were intended to guard against encephalitis, hepatitis B, rabies and other diseases. But the newspaper, which also reported the illness of 74 children in the region, didn't specify if the vaccine was responsible for the deaths or simply had failed to protect the children.

The Chinese Ministry of Health says it is probing the vaccine situation, adding that it made a similar investigation in 2008 without finding anything wrong. But China has been regularly rocked by reports of tainted drugs and food--and the consequences can be fatal. The country executed the former head of its food and drug agency in 2007 after he admitted to taking bribes to approve an antibiotic linked to the deaths of 10 people.

- here's the story from the AFP