Indonesia to re-vaccinate children affected by fake drugs scam

Indonesian parents gather as they check their kids' vaccination details at a protest against fake vaccines at a hospital in Jakarta, on July 15, 2016.
Indonesian parents gather as they check their kids' vaccination details at a protest against fake vaccines at a hospital in Jakarta, on July 15, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Children in Indonesia who may have received bogus vaccinations, will receive free shots of the real thing, said Health Minister Nila Moeloek on Tuesday (July 19).

An investigation into the fake vaccine debacle, targeted at a criminal syndicate suspected of selling fake imported vaccines to hospitals and clinics that later administered them to children is also ongoing.

Dr Nila, who was speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday at the Health Ministry, echoed President Joko Widodo's call for calm amid public outcry over the scandal, which had exposed loopholes in Indonesia's healthcare system and cast doubts over the ministry's role in ensuring drug safety.

"We are closely watching the development on the situation.. and expressed our deep concern," she said. "I urge the public not to be anarchic as we cannot judge hospitals and the perpetrators before they have been found guilty in court... We also urge (the public) not to panic as we are providing re-immunisation."

Mr Joko on Monday attended a health clinic in Jakarta to see children given fresh booster vaccines following revelations that four criminal syndicates have allegedly been producing counterfeit vaccines throughout Jakarta and Java for up to 13 years.

"This gives us all momentum to improve governance around the pharmaceutical industry regarding the manufacture and distribution of medicines, including vaccines," he had told reporters.

According to Reuters, the ring used stolen vials and forged labels to make the fake medicine look like imported vaccines produced by GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi. State-owned Bio Farma produces nearly all vaccines available in Indonesia.

The vaccines were sold for up to 800,000 rupiah (S$82.70) a dose, compared to government-subsidised ones which are sold for as little as 5,000 rupiah.

As many as 14 health facilities, in Jakarta and elsewhere on Java island, had allegedly administered the fake vaccines. Police have also reportedly rounded up nearly two dozen suspects, including drugmakers, doctors, midwives and nurses, over the scam.

The Health Ministry, the police and the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency had formed a joint task force last week to address the distribution of fake vaccines in the country.

Dr Nila said that the ministry, along with other health agencies and organisations, is currently providing "support to the legal process and law enforcement on the perpetrators".

Nearly 200 children had been identified for re-inoculation, with more expected to be confirmed.

While Dr Nila assured that the sham vaccines had "no side effects on health", she acknowledged that the case had shown "weaknesses" in the current health system and vowed to correct them through evaluation.

"We are carrying evaluation on the implementation of regulations, systems and procedures, supervision system to ensure no repeat of a similar incident," she said.