- Police in China have uncovered a $90 million black market for vaccines against meningitis, rabies, polio, mumps, hepatitis B, encephalitis and other illnesses.
- The illegal vaccines have been sold in dozens of provinces throughout China since 2010. Overall, they have been distributed across two-thirds of the country.
- There is widespread anger among parents of children who have been vaccinated in the last six years, as well as among government officials.
It all started to unravel when officials discovered a mother and daughter selling 25 different kinds of unrefrigerated vaccines. The potential consequences—illness due to vaccine inefficacy or death due to toxic elements—have angered people across China, who clearly remember the 2008 scandal in which melamine-tainted milk was sold throughout the country, prompting consumers to buy powdered milk and criticize the government's lack of accountability for public health.
Once again, anger is directed against regulatory authorities, not only from citizens, but also from Premier Li Keqiang. He placed blame on the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), health ministry and police for "dereliction of duty," according to a report from Reuters.
The fact that the government has said that the vaccines were real, but illegally distributed, has done little to ease the controversy.
For its part, the CFDA has continuously referenced a lack of sufficient resources to direct towards the level of oversight needed to adequately police the Chinese drug market, which serves 1.4 billion people. Unfortunately, all of this is occurring as China attempts to implement widespread healthcare reforms, aiming to be more competitive in both its domestic and global biopharma markets.
Much of the reform in China to date has focused on quality-control. The State Council seeks to build on that by improving product traceability systems and strengthening overall supervision.