China promises to punish officials in vax supply chain lapse

China Satellite map
Satellite photo of China

The hammer is falling on Chinese officials after the government was again embarrassed by a significant breach in its drug supply chain.

An announcement from the Chinese cabinet said today that 357 officials tied to the diversion of vaccines to a mother-and-daughter team who allegedly sold them outside official channels will be punished, MarketWatch reports, citing the state-controlled Xinhua news service. Punishment will include demotions, firings and in some cases criminal charges, it said. The state has already detained more than 200 people implicated in the scandal and filed criminal cases against 192, Xinhua said.  

China, in typical fashion, last month started rounding up suspects after the vaccine diversions were uncovered. The arrests were made after Premier Li Keqiang called for a complete investigation into the illegal operation that over 5 years reportedly bought from drugmakers $88 million worth of vaccines that they sold outside of official channels in a number of Chinese provinces. The group reportedly sold vaccines against meningitis, rabies and other illnesses. There were fears the vaccines had not been stored and shipped in a temperature-controlled manner to protect their safety and efficacy.

Last month authorities said they were investigating three companies that may have manufactured the vaccines, including Shandong Zhaoxin Bio-tech, which previously had its manufacturing certificate revoked.

Reports of the arrests have stirred anger among citizens who were concerned about the safety of their children, and raised questions about the ability of the government to oversee the country’s extended pharma supply chain. China has worked in the last several years to overcome that perception by strengthening its drug and food safety apparatus after being embarrassed internationally over a number of cases where tainted products showed up in China or were shipped to other countries. It is pretty common for authorities to respond with a police sweep that nabs lots of people.

- read the Marketwatch story

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