China says 202 detained in vaccine scandal

China has detained 202 people in connection with a black market vaccine ring.
China has detained 202 people in connection with a black market vaccine ring. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A total of 202 people have been detained in connection with a scandal over an illegal black market vaccine ring, the Chinese government said on Wednesday (April 13), as it vowed to improve supervision of the market.

The case, involving millions of illegal trades of vaccines through a black market drugs ring, has ignited public ire and underscored regulatory weaknesses in the world's second largest pharmaceuticals market.

The State Council, or cabinet, said in a report 202 people had now been detained, with 357 health and regulatory officials receiving administrative punishments.

"Vaccine quality and safety are to do with people's lives and health, especially children, and is a red line that cannot be crossed," the council said in the report, released on the central government's website.

While China's vaccine system is generally safe, the case has exposed serious failings and their must be lessons learned, it added.

The supervision and regulatory system would be tightened, the State Council said, with better record keeping for the production, storing and transport of vaccines and tougher punishments for lawbreakers.

The scandal has stirred angry debate, casting a shadow over government ambitions to bolster the domestic drug industry and underlining the challenge it faces to regulate a widespread and fragmented medicine supply chain.

It has also angered senior leaders, prompting regulators to point to a lack of resources.

The vaccines, including ones against meningitis, rabies and other illnesses, are suspected of being sold in dozens of provinces around China since 2011.

The government says it has not found any spike in abnormal reactions to inoculations and that the vaccines themselves were real, though traded illegally and improperly stored.