Top Chinese official in charge of immunisation ‘in critical condition after suicide attempt’
A senior official in charge of the immunisation programme in Shandong has attempted suicide amid a public outcry after 210,000 children in the province were given faulty vaccines, local media reported on Tuesday.
Song Lizhi, director of the Immunisation Management Department with the Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, is in critical condition after injecting himself with a large dose of insulin, according to China Times, a newspaper affiliated with the China Disabled Persons’ Federation.
But a report by Science and Technology Daily said Song was being treated in hospital for diabetes, though it was deleted from the newspaper’s social media account soon after it was published.
The Shandong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to a request for comment.
The report came after revelations that children in the eastern province had been given ineffective vaccines supposed to protect them against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, produced by Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology.
China’s drug regulator has also accused the company of fabricating production and inspection records relating to a rabies vaccine regularly given to infants.
As head of the immunisation department, Song had approved the company’s vaccines for use in the province.
Shandong stopped administering the faulty vaccine in November after the regulator revealed a substandard lot number, but it was only when the scandal was recently revealed that the province came up with a plan to give affected children new jabs.
China’s cabinet on Monday vowed tough penalties and fines for firms and individuals involved in the vaccine scandal.
Beijing has already ordered the arrest of 18 people at Changsheng Bio-tech, the vaccine maker at the heart of the scandal, including its chairwoman Gao Junfang.
A meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on Monday said enterprises and individuals should be severely punished and banned from the pharmaceutical industry for life.
It ordered further investigations to determine the criminal responsibility of other serious offenders involved in the Changsheng Bio-tech case.
It also called for a full investigation into any potential regulatory failings in the case, including possible dereliction of duty by officials, and said a long-term mechanism should be established to ensure public safety.
A special cabinet investigation team said on Friday that Changsheng Bio-tech had systematically falsified production and testing records to avoid regulatory scrutiny, and had also sold 252,600 doses of ineffective DPT vaccines to inoculate children against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
In a report on Tuesday, Fitch Ratings said the scandal highlighted the risks facing China’s pharmaceutical companies, which focus primarily on the bulk production of a small number of products, making them vulnerable to safety incidents.
“Concentration on low-quality generic drugs, high product concentration and heightened regulatory risks will continue to constrain most Chinese drug makers’ business profiles to non-investment grade levels,” it said.
Additional reporting by Reuters