A new scandal is sweeping China, after the discovery that thousands of schoolchildren may have been inoculated with faulty vaccines. As social media continues to erupt against the government and regulators, one investor has proposed a novel technological solution: blockchain-based verification of vaccine quality and standards.
The story began last year, when Changsheng Biotechnology, one of China’s largest vaccine providers, was ordered to recall 250,000 substandard doses of the vaccine for DPT (Diptheria, pertussis, and tetanus). Recently, the company has also been ordered to stop production of a rabies vaccine after regulators discovered that the company had falsified its records. Changsheng Biotechnology has also been involved in several cases of bribery.
An anonymous article detailing the conspiracy went viral on social media last weekend. Although it has since disappeared, along with any reference to the word “vaccine,” the original article has since been uploaded to the Ethereum blockchain for anyone to read.
Since then, it has become a full-blown scandal; President Xi called the reports “shocking” and police arrested fifteen people, including the chairperson of Changsheng Biotechnology.
While public anger continues to boil, some crypto-visionaries have proposed using blockchain technology to prevent the scandal from repeating. Li Xiaolai, one of China’s best-known cryptocurrency investors, published an article on his own WeChat account arguing for the benefits of a blockchain-based ledger for pharmaceutical tracking.
“What is the most important thing in public affairs?” Li posted. “Openness and transparency.” Li lists at length the need for a public system of accounting for tracking vaccines from the production line to the hospital, and to the patient.
“The more important the public affair, the more detailed the accounting method that is needed,” Li wrote. “Not only bookkeeping, but joint bookkeeping—the separate books of each link must be aligned with the separate books of other related links.”
To solve the tracking problem, Li proposes a currency-free blockchain to provide open, transparent records to resist corruption and allow victims to determine responsibility. “More importantly,” Li writes, “the whole society can maintain calm in the face of such incidents.”
Li’s article was widely circulated in crypto media, and picked up by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s largest newspaper.
Product safety remains a pressing concern for Chinese consumers, even a decade after hundreds of thousands were poisoned by melamine-tainted milk powder. Vaccines, which are highly sensitive to temperature and storage conditions, are another area of concern: in 2016, $90 mn worth of vaccines were stored improperly in Shandong province, and in 2015 hundreds of Henan children were made ill by unrefrigerated inoculations.
These scandals may jeopardize China’s plans to become a world leader in pharmaceuticals by 2025, CNBC reports. However, a trustless, transparent ledger—such as the one Li proposed, and several leading Chinese companies are developing—could put some of the shine back in the “Made in China” brand.
The author has investments in Ethereum.