Jilin-based manufacturer Changsheng has been found to have faked production documents related to a rabies vaccine given to babies as young as three months, underscoring the difficulties China faces in cleaning up the image of what is the world's No. 2 drug industry as it aims to promote locally-made vaccines overseas. "We are anxious about the quality of domestic vaccines", said Yin, who said she had spent HK$5,000 ($640) on the inoculations: PCV13 which protects against pneumococcal bacteria, Japanese encephalitis and the ACWY vaccination to protect against meningitis.
The vaccines are given to infants as young as three months old.
Years later, nearly half of Chinese food-processing plants still failed to meet internationally acceptable standards, according to a 2015 report.
Changsheng was ordered to stop production and recall the vaccines in question. While a number of these vaccines have already been recalled, it is not yet clear how the defective vaccines could affect the health of the children who have been injected. "People's Daily released a commentary on July 22 saying that drug-makers should stick to moral principles and make life their priority rather than profits", news agency Reuters said in a report. It's also unclear how many Chinese children received these vaccines and what sort of impact it could have on their health. In particular, noting that the company had falsified data regarding the production of freeze-dried human rabies vaccine.
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.
The scandal first emerged a week ago, when it was found that the company's anti-rabies vaccines were faulty and didn't meet immunity standards.
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A woman receives a vaccination shot against rabies at the Disease Control and Prevention Center in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province on Tuesday.
"(We) must resolutely strike with heavy blows all law-breaking criminal behaviour, severely punish the criminals according to the law, and hold accountable those who were negligent in supervision", Li said in a website statement late Sunday.
President Xi Jinping echoed those remarks, while police in Changchun, a city in northeastern China, announced that the company's chief executive and four other executives had been placed under investigation. The company expressed its "deepest apology" in a statement.
This comes as a mounting scandal over a rabies vaccine sent drug stocks tumbling. The company was fined 2.58 million yuan ($282,000), and assets worth 859,000 yuan from the sales of the vaccine were confiscated.
In 2008, about 300,000 Chinese infants became sick after drinking tainted milk formula, triggering a countrywide rush to buy internationally-produced baby products in Hong Kong and overseas.
China's newest product safety scare burst onto the public consciousness when an obscure essay alleging corruption in the pharmaceutical industry become an internet sensation, exposing widespread anger and distrust after a string of scandals.
"The main problem is insufficient regulation, missing regulation, powerless regulation", Yang wrote.