BEIJING — Following recent revelations of a data falsification and faulty product scandal involving Changsheng Bio-Technology, one of China's major vaccine manufacturers, authorities have arrested 15 people — including the company president — on suspicion of criminal behavior.
Located in the northeastern city of Changchun, Changsheng is accused of fabricating production and inspection records related to a rabies vaccine regularly given to infants, and of distributing substandard doses of its DPT vaccine, used against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. A second vaccine producer, Wuhan Biotech, is also thought to have sold hundreds of thousands of faulty DPT vaccines, which are mandatory for Chinese children.
The importance of a rabies vaccine is self-evident. Unless an infected person (someone who's been bitten by a rabid dog, for example) receives an effective and timely dose of the vaccine, the mortality rate is essentially 100%. Regarding the DPT vaccines, the Disease Control department of Shandong and Hebei provinces — where the substandard vaccines were delivered — found that more than half a million of children received the injections.
Chinese child being vaccinated — Photo: SIPA Asia/ZUMA
We believe that these children and their families need to be given a clear account of what went wrong. They also need to be told whether the vaccines will have a negative effect on them, and what remedy can be taken. It's necessary, furthermore, that the appropriate government agencies uncover the truth, and that the vaccine manufacturers, as well as the relevant responsible officials, be held accountable.
For now, there are still too many unanswered questions. China's food and drug administration has apparently known since last November that Changsheng's vaccine failed to meet national standards. Why, then, was the public not informed until mid-July of this year? And why, after nine long months, are the regulatory departments still unable to disclose why the DPT vaccines — from both Changsheng and Wuhan Biotech — were defective?
Again, shouldn't the local regulatory departments in Changchun be held liable first? If the provincial food and drug administration in Jilin really filed an investigation on October 27, 2017, as it claims, why does Changsheng Bio-Technology insist that it hasn't received any notification of the investigation? Whatever went wrong needs to be clarified.
These children and their families need to be given a clear account of what went wrong.
Since the disclosure of the incident, unfortunately, none of the first-level regulators or related agencies have stood up to make even the vaguest of apologies. Nor has anyone accepted any responsibility whatsoever. And yet, don't the "Regulations on Vaccine Circulation and Vaccination Management," adopted by the State Council on April 13, 2016, state clearly that in cases like this, local government and regulatory officials should resign?
People still recall that as recently as March 2016, when word got out about an illegal collusion ring involving nine pharmaceutical and distribution companies producing and distributing faulty vaccines, Prime Minister Li Keqiang requested a thorough and "timely" investigation. "No dereliction of duty is to be tolerated," he said.
Two and a half years later, his words are still ringing in our ears. Shouldn't the newly added clause of the "Regulations for Vaccine Circulation and Vaccination Management" mentioned above be applied, and the concerned officials be held accountable?
Facing the popular uproar over the latest vaccine safety scandal, Premier Li said that "clear account is to be made." The states need to follow through on that promise, and make sure the responsible parties are held accountable. Only then will the Chinese public be able to regain their confidence in China's domestically manufactured vaccines, and in the government itself.
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