China’s “fake” industry has gone to an entirely new level with health regulators now releasing a public list of “fake” vaccines sold in 18 provinces, pledging to crackdown on the ongoing scam.
The authorities only vowed to bring the black market sale of vaccines to a stop when the scandal was made public. The scandal involves 2 million vaccines and more than $88 million (570 million yuan) in sales of the illegal vaccines.
The “fake,” or as the Chinese authorities call it, “problematic” vaccines, included one therapeutic drug, two immune globulin, and 12 vaccines, which a mother and daughter duo allegedly sold before their arrest in Shandong Province.
Pang, a 47-year-old pharmacist, and Sun, her daughter who had just graduated from medical school, are at the center of the scandal. They have both now been charged with operating an unlicensed business that has sold 25 kinds of vaccines for adults and children since 2010.
According to state media the vaccines included shots for diseases like polio, rabies, chicken pox, and hepatitis A, which had been made by licensed pharmaceutical companies.
However, there were no refrigeration facilities that are necessary for storing the vaccines. Chinese health officials warned that without proper refrigeration, vaccines could lose their effectiveness, putting people’s lives at risk.
State news agency Xinhua reported:
“Such vaccines have potential side-effects, and can even cause disability or death.”
Oddly, Pang was only given a three-year suspended sentence for illegally selling vaccines back in 2009. Nevertheless, she continued to sell the tainted products, and was then joined by her daughter after she failed to find a job after graduating from medical school in 2014.
A deadline of March 25 has also been imposed on pharmaceutical companies with ties to the spoiled vaccine ring to come forward with any information. The Shandong food and drug administration declared on its website that:
“We will thoroughly investigate all clues in the case, and once we get to the bottom of it then we will severely punish those found to have violated the law.”
Caixin reported that while Pang and Sun were arrested in April 2015, the Shandong authorities only just now published the names of their 300 accomplices. The authorities have now said that they are working with authorities in 24 various regions to track down these individuals.
Authorities are refusing to say how many individuals may have been affected by this scandal. However, the list of regions involved includes two-thirds of China: Anhui, Beijing, Chongqing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hebei, Henan, Heilongjiang, Hubei, Hunan, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Shandong, Xinjiang, and Zhejiang.
Zhu Zengfa, an inspector for the Food and Drug Administration in Shandong, said:
“Results of some investigations show individuals who own or work for certified manufactures, and authorized wholesale companies illegally bought the vaccines and sold them.”
In efforts to ease public concern, Beijing municipal health authorities have assured that all vaccines sold in the capital’s regulated medical centers were still “safe.” However, this has not convinced many Chinese netizens who have taken to Weibo to air their grievances:
“This is such a huge case, and not a single regulatory official has come out to apologize, not a single one has resigned… this system which doesn’t care whether ordinary citizens live or die makes one’s soul tired.”
Another netizen wrote:
“24 provinces, 5 years already, and how many children!… It’s been nearly a year and then they reveal this! Isn’t this genocide? Words cannot express how angry I am!”
One of those to speak up on Weibo was Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who said she had taken her baby daughter to the United States to get her latest shots:
“I’ve spoken up on my Weibo numerous times. There are so many cases of spoilt vaccines, where is the National Regulation System? Why are there so many similar cases popping out, with nothing done to stop it? How can the production and circulation departments work together to prevent such cases from happening?”
China is the world’s second largest market for drugs. However, its fractured health sector leaves room for the black market deals to take place. Red tape has made it difficult for patients to get hold of drugs, so they now seek unlicensed products through the unofficial channels.
This scandal is yet another incident shattering the already fragile consumer confidence in domestic products. Mainland Chinese are already famous for buying milk formula from abroad or from Hong Kong, following the massive milk powder scandal in 2008, which caused the deaths of at least six infants.