China’s illegal vaccine sales culprit gets 19 years in prison

Pang Hongwei, the principal offender in China’s recent illegal vaccine sales scandal, has been sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The gavel has fallen on the principal offender in China’s high-profile illegal vaccine sales scandal.

Pang Hongwei, the key participant in the mother-and-daughter illegal vaccine sales ring, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for illegal business practices, according to a statement in Chinese posted by the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court, the ruling body of the case. Her daughter, Sun Qi, who was mainly responsible for financial assistance, received 6 years in prison.

From June 2013 to April 2015, Pang, without any licenses and with the help of her daughter, purchased vaccines for rabies, encephalitis B, Hib, hepatitis B and rotavirus, and illegally sold them to buyers—including government-run facilities—across China for about 75 million Chinese yuan ($11 million), according to the court.

Pang’s business was based in Shandong Province, but because of the scope of the case, three state-level government agencies—the Ministry of Public Security, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, and the China FDA—participated in the investigation, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate closely supervised the prosecution.

The main reason for the heavy sentence is that the duo didn’t store and transport the vaccines under proper cold-chain conditions, an action that seriously jeopardized the safety of those vaccines. Plus, Pang was previously sentenced to a three-year imprisonment with 5 years’ reprieve in a separate case for the same offense, which added on to the verdict this time.

Pang and her daughter are certainly not the only ones facing charges. As of November 2016, 324 people have been arrested and 100 were under criminal investigation for dereliction of duty.

By April 2016, right after the news broke, 357 government officials were removed or punished with a demotion. However, the timing—nearly one year after the two suspects’ arrest—aroused huge public fury over authorities’ handling of the case.

Almost in sync with those legal measures, China started a vaccine distribution reform to establish a better traceability system.

That system’s elimination of different levels of distributors caused temporary shortages of vaccines at clinics in China. In an earnings call last July, Sanofi Pasteur’s EVP David Loew described the overhaul as having an “unprecedented impact,” while local vaccine players were busy setting up the logistical chain.