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Public outcry over vaccine scandal in China
In the latest scandal to hit the country, one of the country’s largest vaccine manufacturer was found to have falsified records and distributed faulty rabies vaccines to children.

On Saturday 21 July 2018, an article entitled “Kings of vaccines” quickly gained attention on social media platform, WeChat. The article was found to contain sensitive content and was deleted by censoring authorities on the same day. However, the content has been retweeted millions of times and a huge public outcry followed, prompting Premier Li Keqiang to respond on Sunday 22 July evening via a post on a government website.

The event unfolded a week earlier. On 15 July, the State Drug Administration made an announcement regarding the vaccine maker Changsheng Biotechnology Co. (长生生物科技股份有限公司), which is based in Changchun city, northeast China. The company was found to have falsified production data for its rabies vaccine. On 16 July, Changsheng Biotechnology Co. responded by making an announcement, saying that it had been ordered to stop vaccine production and recall rabies vaccines. The GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certificate of the company has also been suspended. Both announcements did not catch much attention until a few days later, when an article entitled “Kings of vaccines” was published by an independently operated social media account “The Beast” (Shou Ye). The article tells the story of how three entrepreneurs, all of them shareholders of Changsheng Biotechnology, played their roles in the privatization and acquisitions of once state-owned vaccine companies in China and pointed to the possible mismanagement of these vaccine companies.

It was also revealed that a 2017 batch of Changsheng Biotechnology’s diptheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) vaccine was also substandard. The company was fined 3.4 million yuan (USD510,000) for the 2017 incident. According to the Drug regulatory authorities, another vaccine company, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co. Ltd (武汉生物制品研究所有限责任公司), was also found to produce substandard DPT vaccines in 2017. In total 250,000 doses of the substandard DPT vaccines by Changsheng Biotechnology and 400,000 doses by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products have been sold to different regions of China and many of them could have been used.

DPT vaccine is a “Category 1” vaccine in China, which means that it is fully subsidized by the state, and all children are required to be inoculated. The vaccine is recommended for infants as young as three months old. Without DPT vaccination, children may be denied entry into primary schools. The substandard DPT vaccine immediately caused public anger, as many parents started to question if their children have been injected with the substandard vaccine.

On Sunday night, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang urged severe punishment for the people involved, saying the incident had "crossed a moral bottom line".

"We will resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that endanger the safety of peoples' lives, resolutely punish lawbreakers according to the law, and resolutely and severely criticise dereliction of duty in supervision," he said in a statement posted on the government website www.gov.cn.

According to a BBC Chinese report, by Monday 23 July, the event #ChangshengVaccine has been searched close to 500 million times on social media.

On Monday, Chinese president Xi Jinping, while on overseas state visits to Africa, also ordered thorough investigation of the vaccine scandal. He described the scandal as “appalling” and asked authorities to investigate the scandal immediately and release the findings on time to the public. According to the state TV, the company chairwoman Gao Junfang and other senior executives have been taken away by the local police for questioning.

Translation by Xiao Ling

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