China’s dodgy drug makers face hefty fines after public review of draft vaccine management law

Alice Yan
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China’s dodgy drug makers face hefty fines after public review of draft vaccine management law

Chinese pharmaceutical companies found guilty of manufacturing or selling substandard or counterfeit vaccines will face much stiffer penalties than first proposed following a public review of a new piece of legislation.

The first draft of the vaccine management law was released for public consideration in November, and following that process a revised version was sent back to state legislators for their approval on Saturday.

Under the amended proposals, companies embroiled in vaccine scandals can be fined between 15 and 30 times the value of the goods involved, or three times as much as was first suggested.

The legislation also allows for families affected by unsafe drugs, leading to serious illness or death, to apply for punitive damages on top of any compensation awarded to them by the courts.

The call for errant drug makers to be made to pay heavily for their crimes is a clear response to a wave of vaccine scandals in China in recent years that has left the public’s confidence in locally produced drugs in tatters.

Last year, about half a million children in Chongqing, Hebei and Shandong provinces were found to have been immunised with substandard diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus vaccines produced by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology.

The two companies were investigated and the latter was ordered to close, with its 15 executives arrested, after authorities found it had forged a production log, used out-of-date materials, mixed different batches of products and failed to test them properly.

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Another scandal was exposed in 2016 when a woman and her daughter were found to have sold 580 million yuan (US$86.5 million) worth of vaccines that had been improperly stored to buyers across the country over a period of five years.

The public outrage was ratcheted up a notch when it was discovered that the woman, identified only as Pang, had been fined 500,000 yuan and sentenced to a three-year suspended prison sentence in 2009 for a similar crime.

While there have not been any confirmed reports of death or serious injury from people being injected with substandard or out-of-date vaccines, many Chinese now shun locally produced drugs for much pricier foreign alternatives or even travel abroad to be inoculated.

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Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine specialist, said the call for tougher penalties in the new law showed how passionate people were about the issue.

“But I think the amounts are still not high enough,” he said in an interview. “If an investigation finds that a manufacturer has deliberately made problematic vaccines, their production licence should be revoked.”

On the public’s call for punitive damages, Tao said he thought it might prove difficult to implement.

“It’s hard for people to prove a link between their health problems and the vaccines they’ve had,” he said. “That’s why China has no officially acknowledged vaccine victims.”

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