Chinese Premier Li Keqiang calls for crackdown on vaccine industry

Ben Davidson
July 26, 2018

While there have been no apparent reports of people being harmed by the vaccine, the regulator ordered Changsheng to halt production and recall the product after the scandal emerged earlier this month. Days later, provincial authorities in northeast China announced that batches of DPT, or diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus, vaccine were found to be defective. The shot is covered by China's immunisation plan and is mandatory for children.

"A firm determination should be mustered to improve the country's vaccine management system, and utmost efforts should be made to protect the people's interests, social security and stability", he said.

However, response from the public intensified.

"Cases like Changsheng Biotechnology, where laws and regulations are ignored and internal controls exist only in name bring a painful price", it said.

The company behind the rabies vaccine, Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology, has faced criticism after the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) revealed that the company had violated good manufacturing practice (GMP). The official Xinhua News Agency said investigators were testing the vaccine's effectiveness and looking into whether to file criminal charges.

Acting on the leaders' instructions, the State Council has established a task-force and sent an investigation team to the vaccine company. Every child inoculated with the drug as well as all unused doses have now been identified. The 252,600 doses were sold to the Shandong public health authority and although no cases of ill-health have been reported, the incidents have further eroded trust in a sector that has regularly been shaken by scandals.

The scandals caused pharmaceutical companies to plunge on the stock market.

Jilin province, where the company is based, said Tuesday it also would open a corruption investigation into government officials involved.

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The fact that the main villain is a private company and not a government agency part explains why the scandal has been covered in the Chinese press, escaping the type of heavy internet censorship other issues often attract. It also fined the company 3.44 million yuan (about $507,809). Other vaccine makers also continued to slump, with Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products Co. losing 10 per cent, while Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products Co. slipped 4.2 per cent.

The scandal has sparked anger on social media and dealt a blow to China's drug regulator, which has been struggling to clean up the world's second-biggest drug industry and promote domestically made vaccines.

Hebei said it has launched steps to re-administer new vaccines to those affected.

Numerous defective vaccines were already on the market and being given to Chinese children, as part of the mandatory national vaccination program.

One reason product safety is such an explosive issue is that children have been among the victims of the worst Chinese scandals of the last decade, including a massive 2008 scandal over milk and baby formula tainted by the chemical melamine, which gives the appearance of higher protein levels.

The state-run Global Times newspaper questioned in an editorial Monday how dodgy vaccines were still being produced following the harsh lessons of the past.

"People do not understand why the country had not prevented a sub-standard vaccine from being produced in the first place", it said, suggesting it may be due to "lax supervision and light punishment".

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