Top Chinese leaders are scrambling to shore up public confidence and oversight of the pharmaceutical industry after a rabies vaccine maker was found faking records, the latest in a slew of public health and safety scandals that have led outraged Chinese parents to direct their ire at the government.
Premier Li Keqiang declared in a statement Sunday that the case of Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Ltd., which is accused of fabricating production and inspection records, “violated a moral bottom line.” He pledged to “resolutely crack down” on violations that endanger public safety.
There were no reports of injuries due to the rabies vaccine, but the disclosure ricocheted around social media over the weekend, touching a raw nerve for Chinese parents. Two years ago, a similar scandal erupted after police busted a criminal ring that had sold millions of faulty baby vaccines — but did not disclose the case for months.
The latest scandal inflamed long-held frustrations for Chinese parents who routinely complain about worrying over fake food, milk and medicine in a society that seems to lack a “moral bottom line” — and also competent, uncorrupt regulators.
“Defective vaccines are like child abuse and trafficking — it touches on the most sensitive, vulnerable part of the public’s hearts,” wrote a columnist for The Paper, a popular online news outlet backed by the Shanghai government. “But unlike in cases of child abuse, the vaccine scandals involve layers and layers of broken regulators and interest groups.”
Public anger appeared fanned over the weekend by a report by an anonymous author disclosing that regulators found production problems at Changchun Changsheng as early as November but did not publicize the findings or announce a recall for months. The post went viral, and by Monday afternoon the hashtag “Changchun Changsheng makes fake vaccines” had garnered more than 100 million views on Weibo.
In his statement, Li, the premier, acknowledged the government’s lapse on Sunday and pledged to punish the offenders and regulators found in “dereliction of duty.” State media urged the government to handle the matter in a “transparent manner.”
Regulators announced last week that Changsheng Life Sciences was ordered to stop production and recall its rabies vaccine. The official Xinhua News Agency said investigators were testing the vaccine’s effectiveness and looking into whether to file criminal charges.
Rabies is endemic in some areas of China.
In October, the same company was ordered to stop producing a DPT, or diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus, vaccine after batch was found to be defective.
AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.