China police probe vaccine maker Changsheng Bio

Worried parents have been trying to ascertain if their children have been given real vaccines. — Reuters pic

Worried parents have been trying to ascertain if their children have been given real vaccines. — Reuters pic

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday ordered a thorough investigation into the illegal vaccine production scandal that has swept across China, as well as serious punishments for those found responsible. In particular, noting that the company had falsified data regarding the production of freeze-dried human rabies vaccine.

A nurse prepares a vaccine to be given to a child in a hospital in Beijing, China, April 13, 2016.

More than 215,000 children in China were found to have been injected with faulty vaccines in the latest safety scare to hit the country's pharmaceutical industry.

CCTV listed questions the public needed answering and noted that the local regulator overseeing Changsheng had hung up on journalists' calls or declined to answer the phone.

Following Xi's instructions, the government of Jilin Province, which has been criticised throughout the scandal for its weak supervision, poor regulation and political inaction, vowed today to help the investigation and give the people an explanation.

The scandal has sparked anger on social media and dealt a blow to China's drug regulator, which has been struggling to clean up the world's second-biggest drug industry and promote domestically made vaccines.

After baby formula was found to be tainted with melamine in 2008, affecting tens of thousands of infants, terrified Chinese parents began mass buying milk powder from overseas, swamping shops and causing shortages in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

Numerous defective vaccines were already on the market and given to Chinese children as part of a mandatory vaccination program.

Premier Li Keqiang slammed the company late on Sunday for having crossed a moral red line and called for swift action.

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Although the problematic rabies vaccine had not been shipped out, Changsheng admitted to selling 250,000 doses of a vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) to Shandong province a year ago.

There were no reports of injuries due to the rabies vaccine, but the disclosure has ricocheted around social media, touching a raw nerve for Chinese parents.

In the statement Sunday, Li promised to "resolutely crack down" on violations that endanger public safety.

Huo Xiaoling, whose 1-year-old daughter received a vaccine produced by Changchun Changsheng, said that she would no longer buy Chinese-made vaccine since she could not trust officials to clean up this industry. According to the report, 252,600 vaccines in the batch had been sold to disease control and prevention centers throughout east China's Shandong Province.

Authorities in Hebei announced yesterday that almost 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.

Changsheng shares, which resumed trading on Monday afternoon session after being suspended in the morning, were down 10 percent.

Marina Cui - a 25-year-old mother from the southwestern Yunnan province whose five-month-old child took a DPT vaccine last week - said the latest revelations had made her anxious about the overall safety of vaccines. "The State Council should immediately send a group to investigate to uncover the truth as soon as possible, and any wrongdoing will be severely punished regardless of who is involved", Li said.

Other Chinese pharmaceutical companies are also now facing intense scrutiny and potential spot inspections, especially after some of them have run into their own high-profile problems.

"The Changsheng vaccine case has created a tsunami on the internet", the state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial late on Monday, adding it was unrealistic to try and completely control it, though it could not be left unchecked.

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