21 May 2019
The vaccine scandal has prompted many mainlanders to consider migrating to Hong Kong. Photo: China Daily
The vaccine scandal has prompted many mainlanders to consider migrating to Hong Kong. Photo: China Daily

Vaccine scandal rocks confidence in China food and drug safety

There were 50 unread WeChat messages on my phone when I woke up Monday morning, mostly from mainland friends.

They are asking me about how they could take their children to Hong Kong to get vaccinated. Some of them are even considering migrating to our city.

They are, of course, referring to the latest vaccine scandal in China involving Shenzhen-listed firm Changchun Changsheng Bio-technology Ltd. (002680.CN), which was found to have falsified reports about the production and inspection of some 113,000 rabies vaccines, according to the China Food and Drug Administration. 

It was later revealed that the problem went much deeper. The company’s DPT vaccines – against diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, and tetanus – were found to be substandard in November last year, but by the time the authorities learned about this, 252,600 of the substandard DPT vaccines had been sold. And more than 200,000 children had taken the faulty vaccines.

Despite all that, the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) only imposed a fine of 3.44 million yuan (US$504,745) on Changsheng.

Worse, the vaccine company, one of the largest producers in China, had been involved in at least 12 bribery cases between 2001 and 2017, according to mainland media reports.

In one instance, the company paid a 7 yuan kickback to the head of a hospital in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, for each varicella vaccine purchased by the hospital.

Despite its horrible production and bribery records, the company has managed to sell large amounts of its vaccines to various local governments and hospitals.

The production scandal may not even have come to light without an employee blowing the whistle.

It was also revealed that Sun Xianze, an official punished for the 2008 Sanlu milk power scandal, had been promoted to deputy president of the SFDA since 2012. Sun was in charge of the safety of the country’s vaccination program for seven years until he retired in February this year.

The scandal has thus shattered public confidence in China’s vaccine system.

On Monday Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a trip to Africa, called the vaccine safety scandal “shocking” and demanded a “thorough investigation”.

Changsheng’s chairwoman Gao Junking and four senior company executives were reportedly taken away by the police on Monday.

It is often during such a crisis that mainland Chinese find Hong Kong citizenship valuable. But since the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme was suspended in 2015, only those who qualify under the admission scheme for talents, professionals and entrepreneurs still have the option to migrate here.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 24

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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