China rounds up more suspects in illegal vaccine sales probe; 324 implicated

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Chinese authorities arrested more than two dozen new suspects in their probe of a vaccine sales ring, which has rocked the country since its discovery earlier this year.

With the 27 new arrests, 324 people have been implicated in a $88 million illegal vaccine ring, reports, perhaps the largest such operation in China’s history. More than 100 public officials face investigation for bribery and collusion, the state’s news outfit reports.

First discovered in March, the probe centers on former pharmacist Pang Hongwei and her adult daughter. Authorities say the pair set up an operation that sold 12 types of vaccines and other pharma products throughout China. They funneled products through more than 300 distributors to reach 24 provinces and regions, according to the report.

The vaccine supplies reportedly were kept at unacceptable temperatures. Improperly stored vaccines can be ineffective or dangerous.

Since the ring was discovered, officials in China have been overhauling the country's vaccine supply chain, sending ripples through the domestic market. The China-focused vaccine maker Sinovac, for example, reported a steep falloff in revenue, with second-quarter sales of $1.4 million versus $18.5 million during the same period last year.

The supply chain fixes also triggered shortages as the country moved to eliminate middlemen.

On a conference call in late July, Sanofi Pasteur executive vice president David Loew said the “unprecedented impact” of the logistical overhaul is likely to last between four and six months for the Big Pharma.

“The Chinese authorities have intervened and asked the manufacturers not to pass any more through different levels of distributors,” Loew said. “There are now regulations that the manufacturers need to deliver directly to 2,200 points of central participant control in China.”

The entire episode serves as a ding on China’s reputation as the country works strengthen its food and drug safety measures, after several cases where tainted products either made it to consumers in China or were shipped internationally.