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Thirty-seven arrested in China vaccine scandal

Published on 23/03/16 at 11:44am

Police in China have arrested 37 people in eastern China in relation to illegal vaccine sales conducted by a ring of hundreds of people over a five-year period.

The news follows the arrest of a mother and daughter in the country last month accused of buying and selling vaccines illegally.

China’s Xinhau news agency reports that the vaccines ring allegedly bought vaccines from a number of sources, both licensed and unlicensed, before selling them on at inflated prices to illegal agents, as well as legal local disease control and prevention centres.

Police estimate $88 million-worth of vaccines were incorrectly refrigerated or transported, which could lead to them becoming ineffective or even unsafe. The World Health Organisation’s China office had said that the greatest health risk comes from the vaccine not providing sufficient protection against the disease for which it is used.

The incident has raised questions over possible loopholes in the regulatory situation in what is the world’s second largest medicines market. Although the authorities have been aware of the situation since April 2015, they only informed the public Friday when they called on vaccine suppliers to come forward to help trace potential victims of the growing scandal.

Vaccines for 12 conditions, including Japanese encephalitis, rabies and meningitis, are suspected to have been sold in 20 Chinese provinces since 2016. It is unknown how many people may potentially have been exposed to improperly handled or expired products.

A crackdown has been launched in response, with tougher checks demanded on vaccine manufacturers, wholesalers and buyers.

Xinhau says three pharma companies are being investigated, including Shandong Zhaoxin Bio-tech. Authorities are said to have revoked the company’s operating certificate and ordered it to halt operations.

Joel Levy

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