China drug makers must pay for suffering

  • New draft law aimed at plugging gaping loopholes in consumer protection is to be welcomed, with President Xi Jinping referring to the latest case as ‘hideous’
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 11:09pm

Without vaccines to protect against common infections and antibiotic drugs to fight others, the world would be a much more dangerous place. Going by the maxim that prevention is better than cure, vaccines are the basic building block of community health. The safety and integrity of their production and distribution are paramount. Where batches for a large market are defective, the loss from recalling them could be substantial; the temptation to take the risk of distribution huge. Giving in to the temptation is criminally reckless. The punishment must be made to fit the crime, and should include civil remedies for innocent victims of reprehensible commercial behaviour.

These are all reasons to welcome the draft of a new mainland vaccine law to plug gaping loopholes in consumer protection. It follows repeated scandals in recent years. The most recent, involving substandard rabies vaccines, was rightly described as “hideous” by President Xi Jinping.

Chinese vaccine victims could seek damages under new law

Supervision of the research, production, distribution and administration of vaccines is fragmented among various laws, making it easier for profiteering and lax standards to put people’s health at risk. If properly implemented, a single law drawing it all together will close loopholes and improve supervision, from research to production and distribution to administration of vaccines. Severe penalties will deter non-compliance, particularly fabrication of records in the chain from the laboratory to the vaccination clinic.

Most welcome is provision for parents and families to sue drug makers for punitive damages in cases of death or serious illness caused by faulty vaccines. Beijing-based medical lawyer Zhu Yonggen says this will be the first time punitive damages have been introduced, apart from compensation for financial losses, including funeral fees, hospital bills and loss of earnings. Although the rabies case, involving falsification of production records, resulted in Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences being fined 9.1 billion yuan (HK$10.3 billion/US$1.3 billion) and ordered to set up a compensation scheme to pay victims up to 650,000 yuan, mounting demands for tougher regulations have spurred the government to reform the law.