After receiving her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Li Jun’s 4-year-old developed a fever and coughs, which quickly subsided after intravenous therapy at the hospital. But after the second shot, the father could tell something was wrong.
Swelling appeared around his daughter’s eyes and did not go away. For weeks, the girl complained about pains on her legs, where bruises started to emerge seemingly out of nowhere. In January, a few weeks after the second dose, the 4-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“My baby was perfectly healthy before the vaccine dose,” Li (an alias), from China’s north-central Gansu Province, told The Epoch Times. “I took her for a health check. Everything was normal.”
He is among hundreds of Chinese that belong to a social media group claiming to be suffering from or have a household member suffering from leukemia, developed after taking Chinese vaccines. Eight of them confirmed the situation when reached by The Epoch Times. Names of the interviewees have been withheld to protect their safety.
The leukemia cases span across different age groups from all parts of China. But Li and others particularly pointed to a rise in patients from the younger age group in the last few months, coinciding with the regime’s push to inoculate children between 3 and 11 years old beginning last October.
Li’s daughter had her first injection in mid-November under the request of her kindergarten. She is now undergoing chemotherapy at the Lanzhou No. 2 People’s Hospital where at least 20 children are being treated for similar symptoms, most of them between the age of 3 and 8, according to Li.
“Our doctor from the hospital told us that since November, the children coming to their hematology division to treat leukemia have doubled the previous years’ number and they are having a shortage of beds,” he said.
Li claimed that at least eight children from Suzhou district, where he lives, have died recently from leukemia.
The hospital’s hematology division could not be immediately reached for comment.
Roughly 84.4 million children between the 3-11 age group have been vaccinated as of Nov. 13, according to latest figures from China’s National Health Commission, accounting for more than half of the population in that age bracket.
There had been some resistance from Chinese parents when the campaign to vaccinate children first rolled out. They expressed concern about the lack of data about the effects of Chinese vaccines on young people. The vaccines are supplied by two Chinese drugmakers, Sinopharm and Sinovac, which carry an efficacy rate of 79 percent and 50.4 percent, respectively, based on available data from trials conducted on adults.
There’s limited information about the health effects of these vaccines on children, and the World Health Organization said in late November that it has not approved the two vaccines for emergency use on the underaged.
But parents who were reluctant to vaccinate their children have faced pressure to comply. Some said they lost work bonuses or were given a talk by their supervisors. In other cases, their children faced punishment varying from losing honors or even getting barred from attending school, as in the case of Wang Long’s 10-year-old son.
“The school told us last year to take him for vaccination on such and such date, or he can’t go to class,” Wang, from eastern China’s Shandong Province, told The Epoch Times.
The boy received his second dose on Dec. 4. A month later, he began experiencing fatigue and low fever. He is now at Shandong University Qilu Hospital, being treated for acute leukemia, diagnosed on Jan. 18.
On WeChat, the all-in-one Chinese social media platform, Li has come to know over 500 patients or their family members sharing the same predicament.
The local disease control center, when called by Li and others, had promised an investigation. But these probes invariably ended with the officials declaring the leukemia cases as “coincidental” and thus unrelated to the vaccines.
The authorities said the same in 2013, following the deaths of over a dozen toddlers after Hepatitis B jabs.
But Li and others in a similar situation are far from being convinced.
“I dare say they didn’t do any verification but only went through the motions,” said Li.
Li suspects that authorities are giving him the runaround. The officials told him a panel of experts would start an investigation within his province, but when he called the provincial level health agency, they disavowed any knowledge, saying reports of these cases had never reached them.
Li and others seeking scrutiny of this issue also stand little chance to get their voices heard in the vast Chinese censorship machinery that constantly filters out anything deemed harmful to the communist regime’s interests.
“The information gets blocked the instant we try to post something online. You can’t send it out,” said Li.
When China’s two top political bodies met last week for its most important annual gathering in what Beijing called the “Two Sessions,” Li pitched in the WeChat group the idea of petitioning in the capital to get the authorities’ attention.
That message drew the authorities’ notice immediately.
“The police called us one by one,” said Li. “They said we have made things up and ordered us to withdraw from the chat group.”
The group was soon disbanded. An information sheet containing details of over 200 leukemia patients, filled out by members of the group, is no longer accessible.
According to Li, there are signs indicating that authorities are well aware of this issue. Doctors, when receiving patients presenting with similar symptoms, would first ask them if they had taken the vaccine, he said, citing information he learned from the WeChat group.
“Got it, they would say, and that’s the end of it,” he said of the doctors’ questioning.
Li got the same reaction when calling the hotline for Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in the hopes of getting media exposure.
“As soon as we said the children had taken COVID-19 vaccine, they asked me if she had gotten leukemia. They knew,” said Li. “They said that they got too many calls because of this.”
The cost for treatment is estimated at around 400,000 to 500,000 yuan ($63,093 to $78,867), more than 20 times the average annual income.
Wang, whose 10-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia, is the sole breadwinner for his family and is already under strain making mortgage repayments. He received about only 1,000 yuan ($157) through the state social assistance program to help pay for his son’s treatment.
“I stayed at the hospital until 4 a.m. the night before,” said Wang, adding that the crushing news has quite “broken” the boy’s mother.
“Had he inherited it from the family, we’d accept it as our lot,” Wang said. “But he got sick because of the vaccine. I just can’t reconcile it.”
Li, meanwhile, has been borrowing money from his relatives for the hospital fees. Some of the money trickles in in bills of 20 and 30 yuan, the equivalent of a few dollars, he said.
Li has heard no response from officials or the media.
His friend who works at the local health commission overseeing the distribution of vaccines has told him to not put much hope in the matter.
“The officials knew that you could get leukemia, but the ‘arm is no match for the thigh,’” the friend told him, referring to a Chinese metaphor. “This is a national issue.”
The Health Commission of Lanzhou City, the Health Commission of Gansu Province, the Gansu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Lanzhou Disease Prevention and Control Center, the Jiuquan City Disease Prevention and Control Center, Sinopharm, and Sinovac did not answer multiple calls for comment.
The National Health Commission, Sinopharm, and Sinovac did not immediately respond to email queries from The Epoch Times.
Gu Xiaohua contributed to this report.