CHINESE authorities are grappling to deal with a pharmaceuticals scandal described as “vile” and “shocking” by the country’s President Xi Jinping.
A major drug producer Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology has been found to have produced 250,000 faulty vaccines administered to Chinese children, leading to widespread anger from parents and condemnation from the ruling Communist Party.
“Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology’s illegal production of vaccines is vile in nature and shocking,” Xi said as quoted by state broadcaster CCTV (via AFP). There have been no reports of the vaccines being harmful to patients, however.
The New York Times reported that the dodgy immunisations were for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, just as the Beijing is attempting to promote the country as a leading producer of medicines for the world.
President Xi has ordered a thorough investigation into the company and a recall of any unused vaccines produced by the Changchun Changsheng. The company’s licence for producing rabies vaccines has been revoked and all production and sale of their products has been suspended.
“We always say that kids are the nation’s future, but if we can’t ensure the safety of such a future, what does the future hold for us?” said a 37-year-old mother with a 1-year-old daughter, as quoted by the Times.
Chinese social media has been dominated by discussion of the scandal since the story broke on Sunday. “News about the vaccine scandal involving Changchun Changsheng is flooding the internet with public anger and panic,” said an editorial in the state-run Global Times.
“My home country, how can I trust you? You just let me down again and again,” wrote one netizen.
“Anything that touches on drug or food safety also involving children is just a huge hot button in China,” Kent Kedl, Shanghai-based senior partner at consultancy Control Risks, told Reuters. “This is probably the highest-level of code red that the government faces.”
The Global Times newspaper reported that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has instructed authorities to dispatch teams to immediately investigate “the entire product chain” of all vaccines, vowing “severe punishment” and zero tolerance for anybody involved in the scandal.
Changsheng’s chairwoman, three senior executives and two mid-level employees have been taken in for questioning by local police, the company said on Tuesday. The country’s top graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), also said it had begun an investigation into the firm.
The scandal has prompted speculation that mainland Chinese would take their children outside mainland China for vaccines as has happened with previous scandals, which could lead to a shortage in Chinese-controlled regions like Hong Kong or Macau.
Additional reporting from Reuters.