Mainland authorities have sacked or demoted 357 officials and arrested 202 suspects in connection with a scandal in Shandong that has prompted fears over the private distribution of vaccines. The central government has also announced the tightening of regulations regarding private market vaccines, and said it intends to bring all vaccines under centralised procurement procedures like vaccines administered under public programmes. The administration has come under fire after it was revealed a 47-year-old woman, charged in connection with illegally traded vaccines, had bought and sold vaccines worth a total of 570 million yuan (HK$684 million) since 2010. The case involved 300 dealers in 24 provinces. The woman was arrested in April last year, but the case was made public only in February. The vaccines – for use by children and adults – had been produced by licensed manufacturers. But the vaccines, some of which were near their expiry date, had not been properly stored or transported at the required cold temperature, raising fears they might be ineffective. China’s drug watchdog on trail of black market vaccines A statement from Wednesday’s State Council meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang said a total of 192 criminal cases had been established regarding the Shandong vaccine scandal and 202 people had been placed under criminal arrest. Another 357 officials had been removed from their position or demoted and some were to face legal action. The officials were from the national health commission, the China Food and Drug Administration, and 17 provincial and city governments. “Vaccine safety is critical to children’s life and health, it is a red line that cannot be messed around with,” China Central Television quoted the State Council as saying. The State Council said it would increase punishments, including fines, and ban individuals from operating any vaccine business if they illegally sold or transported vaccines. Vaccine scandal: hundreds involved across 24 provinces in China A spokesman with the National Health and Family Planning Commission added they were working with food and drug administrators to develop a long-term strategy to ban all sales, transport and distribution of vaccines without permits. This included tasking provincial disease prevention and control organisations with the purchase of all vaccines. Distribution to providers would be handled by county-level disease prevention and control organisations. Under the strategy, the source of all vaccines would be traceable in a national database and manufacturers, merchandisers and distributors would all need to provide a full set of permits. The rules would require anyone storing or transporting vaccines to keep full records of temperature conditions.