- China should more strictly enforce vaccine management regulations across the board in both public and private distribution networks, the World Health Organization's China representative said Monday.
- The WHO representative, Bernhard Schwartlander, expressed concern the ongoing vaccine scandal would undermine public confidence in immunization.
- Earlier this month, police in China uncovered a $90 million black market for vaccines against meningitis, rabies, polio, hepatitis B, and other illnesses. The illegal vaccines had apparently been sold in dozens of provinces throughout China since 2010. So far, police have detained more than 130 suspects.
Schwartlander emphasized the manufacturing of vaccines in China met international and WHO standards. While the WHO has previously reviewed the government vaccine distribution system and deemed it safe, standards apparently are disregarded once vaccines reach the private market.
In light of this weakness, the WHO wants China to apply the same high standards used in public distribution networks to privately-purchased vaccines.
"This incident has highlighted the need for much stricter enforcement of vaccine management regulations across the board," Schwartlander said.
China's $60-plus billion biopharma market has been braced for large-scale reforms for the past year, including heavier investment in domestic R&D, clamping down on corruption, and working to speed up its drug-approval process.
This illegals vaccines scandal highlights the continued need for reforms and could accelerate increases in oversight. Health authorities continue to investigate and the police have detained over 130 people.
The government has assured the population and other stakeholders that Chinese vaccine production is safe, which the WHO backed up. But the scandal risks weakening faith in the broader health system.
Given the size of China's population, there are significant barriers to comprehensive regulatory oversight. As the scandal has broadened, health authorities have cited a lack of sufficient resources to direct towards adequately policing the market, according to Reuters.