(Wider distribution, no change to text)
BEIJING, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Chinese health authorities said they have found no link between a hepatitis B vaccine and the deaths of nine children who had received those shots, state media said on Friday.
China has been investigating 17 deaths following inoculation with a hepatitis B vaccine, made by Shenzhen-based BioKangtai, from Dec. 13 and 31. The news alarmed many Chinese Internet users, who called on the government to make more information public.
Many Chinese people are suspicious that the government tries to cover up bad news about health problems, despite assurances of transparency. In 2003, the government initially tried to cover-up the outbreak of the SARS virus.
Nine of the cases have nothing to do with the vaccines, state news agency Xinhua cited the director of the disease control bureau of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Yu Jingjin, as saying at a press conference.
A preliminary analysis of the eight other cases have also found no link between the deaths and the vaccines, but the cause of the deaths will be confirmed only after autopsies, Yu said.
Li Guoqing of the China Food and Drug Administration said at a press conference that no problems had been found with BioKangtai vaccines in production practices or product quality, according to Xinhua.
BioKangtai said in a statement in December that it rigorously followed safety rules but that they were testing the batches suspected of causing the deaths.
China has been beset by a series of product safety scandals over the past few years.
At least six children died in 2008 after drinking milk contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine, and there have also been reports of children dying or becoming seriously ill from faulty encephalitis, hepatitis B and rabies vaccines. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)