Chinese President Xi Jinping orders crackdown over ‘appalling’ vaccine scandal
Command for thorough investigation and severe punishment reinforces zero-tolerance directive by Chinese premier
Chinese President Xi Jinping has described the country’s latest vaccine scandal as “appalling”, pledging a thorough investigation into China’s worst public health crisis in years.
Taking time out from his trip to Africa, Xi said China was determined to clean up the scandal-ridden industry, ordering local authorities to conduct an investigation immediately and release the findings to the public “on time” to ensure social stability.
“The violations by Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology are serious and appalling,” state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying, as police in Changchun took the company’s chairwoman Gao Junfang and four senior executives away for questioning.
Xi also ordered the authorities to use severe punishment “to cure the chronic disease [of corruption] and scratch poison from one’s bones”.
He told the authorities to resolutely “improve the supervision of vaccines and guard the bottom line of safety in order to safeguard public interest and social security”.
The orders echoed zero-tolerance directives by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the weekend in response to revelations that Changsheng Bio-tech had produced inferior DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) vaccines for children as young as three months old.
“No matter what companies or people are involved, severe punishment would be meted to all who [violated the safety standards] and there would be no tolerance,” CCTV quoted Li as saying.
Li said the incident crossed a “moral bottom line” and ordered an investigation into the “complete production and sale processes” of the vaccines.
Meanwhile, officials in the east Chinese province of Shandong said there had been no reports of any children sickened by the inferior vaccines.
In a report on Monday, newspaper Dazhong Daily quoted the Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as saying that while the DPT vaccines were ineffective they were not thought to be harmful.
It said also it had records for all 215,184 children who were given the shots.
It is not the first time the Chinese leader has vowed to clean up the vaccine industry. Li made much the same pledge more than two years ago in response to a similar scandal.
According to a statement on the government’s website, Li said in March 2016 that China “must fix” the loopholes in the supervision of vaccine production and distribution after it was revealed that a total of 570 million yuan worth of improperly stored or expired drugs had been sold across the country over several years.
In the latest scandal it is thought that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Chinese children might have been injected with ineffective vaccines, made by the country’s largest producers, under a compulsory government health care system.
Fury and fear filled China’s social media over the weekend as parents questioned how such a scandal could have been allowed to happen.
On WeChat, the country’s most popular messaging service, the Chinese word for vaccine appeared in 321 million articles and searches, 80 times the number of times it appeared on Friday.
The Jilin Food and Drug Administration, where Changsheng Bio-tech is based, said on its website on Friday that the company sold about 252,600 substandard DPT vaccines to the Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency in charge of public health in a province of about 100 million people.
For that offence Changsheng Bio-tech was fined 3.4 million yuan, but it was also revealed that the company had been guilty of another serious violation over the manufacture of rabies vaccines.
The State Drug Administration said on July 15 that during an unannounced inspection of the listed company, officials discovered forged data relating to about 113,000 rabies vaccines. The watchdog revoked the company’s licence to produce the drug and said it might launch a criminal investigation.
Changsheng Bio-tech issued a statement via the Shenzhen Stock Exchange on Sunday saying it was “deeply sorry”, and had stopped production of DPT. The company’s share price has nearly halved in the past week, and trading in the stock was suspended on Monday.
In November, China’s national drug watchdog announced that Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, another major vaccine producer, had sold 400,520 inferior DPT vaccines to Chongqing and Hebei.
A father in Guangzhou, whose daughter was given four doses of DPT produced by Changsheng and the Wuhan Institute in 2015 and 2017, told the South China Morning Post on Sunday that he no longer had any faith in vaccines made in China.
The man, surnamed Lin, said he planned to take his daughter to Hong Kong for vaccinations in the future.
“I [and my family] will not be having any more vaccinations on the mainland until the government takes real and serious steps to resolve this issue,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang and Josephine Ma