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China hit by pharma scandal, Premier Li vows crackdown

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Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology at the centre of China’s latest pharma scandal

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has vowed stern action over the latest safety scare to hit the country’s pharmaceutical industry, as a mounting scandal over a rabies vaccine sent drug stocks tumbling.

China’s Food and Drug Administration announced late Sunday that it had ordered all production stopped at one of the country’s biggest vaccine makers, Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology.

Li said the latest case had crossed a “line of human ethics”, and he vowed a thorough investigation and harsh consequences for any infractions or lax supervision.

“(We) must resolutely strike with heavy blows all law-breaking criminal behaviour, severely punish the criminals according to the law, and hold accountable those who were negligent in supervision,” Li said in a statement posted late Sunday on the government’s website.

Regulators said last week they had halted production of a rabies vaccine made by the company, which is based in northeastern China, after finding fabricated records and other problems during an inspection.

China is hit regularly by quality-control scandals, fuelling fear over the safety of food and medicines and anger at regulatory lapses.

Censors and regulators struggled to stay abreast of the public’s response to the latest scandal, deleting posts on WeChat over the weekend as state media tried to take control of the narrative.

Stocks of major Chinese vaccine producers plunged Monday.

In Shenzhen, Walvax Biotechnology, which makes a range of flu and other vaccines, dropped by its 10 percent daily allowable limit, as did vaccine suppliers Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products and Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products.

After a brief trading halt, shares of Changchun Changsheng’s parent company also fell by the 10 percent limit.

The CFDA said last week that the problematic rabies vaccine had not left Changsheng’s factory, but state media reports have suggested otherwise.

Changchun Changsheng said Sunday it had already halted production of a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine that regulators found last year to be sub-standard.

But concerns have grown that problematic vaccines had already been administered to children.

Authorities in Hebei announced on Monday that nearly 150,000 people in the northern province received a sub-standard diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine made by another firm, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.

Hebei said it has launched steps to re-administer new vaccines to those affected.

The state-run Global Times newspaper questioned in an editorial Monday how dodgy vaccines were still being produced following the harsh lessons of the past.

“People do not understand why the country had not prevented a substandard vaccine from being produced in the first place,” it said, suggesting it may be due to “lax supervision and light punishment.”

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