The Changchun Changsheng Bio-tech scandal, involving over 250,000 faulty doses of the DPT infant vaccine, has further diminished the Chinese people’s trust in the authorities, just days after an expose of a defective rabies vaccine.
Including chairwoman Gao Junfang, 18 Changsheng executives have been arrested and placed under investigation by local authorities in Changchun, the northeastern Chinese city where the company is based.
China’s pharmaceutical industry enjoys a captive market due to state regulations that mandate universal vaccination, and because of the close relationship between the authorities and drug companies. Such a lucrative business is full of opportunities for abuse.
Examples abound: also in July, there was a mass recall of Valsartan, a drug exported to 22 countries in Europe and North America, when it was discovered to contain carcinogenic components made by China’s Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals.
Three high-profile tainted vaccine scandals that occurred in 2006 in Shanxi Province and in 2013 and 2015 in Shandong Province caused serious damage and show how private companies and SOEs collude with state authorities to maximize their profits at the expense of the people’s lives.
Changsheng is not the only recent culprit in the manufacture of substandard vaccines. Thousands of miles to the south, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products (WIBP) was found to have produced 400,000 doses of defective DPT vaccines, yet was let off with little more than a fine.
Superficially, the reason for this is obvious: WIBP is a fully state-owned enterprise (SOE) while Changchun Changsheng is a private company not afforded the same political protections. But the truth may not be so simple.
Changsheng, founded in 1992, was split off from the state-owned Changchun Institute of Biological Products (CIBP). Gao Junfang, who worked in CIBP as a cashier, appropriated a large amount of public equipment for use at her new company — a common practice during China’s “reform” period.
The head of a company in China is often not the true owner. Rather, he or she is just a stand-in, known in Chinese as a “white glove,” for an elusive boss, typically someone from a powerful family in the upper echelons of the Chinese political structure. Barring a high-level political struggle, any scandal involving the company would at worst result in the white glove being punished as a scapegoat, as happened to Gao Junfang.
In 2006, joint regulations issued by the Shanxi provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Shanxi Health Bureau required all vaccines used in the province bear a CDC label of certification — a measure taken to impose monopoly over the vaccination business.
An act of criminal negligence followed: Li Wenyuan, Shanxi DCD director, appointed Tian Jianguo to head the Provincial Biological Products Distribution Center. having no professional background in pharmaceuticals, Tian ordered temporary workers to move vaccines from cold storage and apply labels to them in a hot warehouse. After prolonged exposure to heat, the vaccines were tainted. In the process, the company that Tian had commissioned to do the job made almost 100 million yuan (about $15 million).
When news of the scandal broke, Shanxi authorities neither investigated nor prosecuted the two primary culprits, Li Wenyuan and Tian Jianguo. In fact, the government shielded them from lawsuit by parents of the victims; the court refused to take the cases. Even the central authorities stepped in to protect the vested interests.
Officials from the Ministry of Health conducted an investigation of the incident and determined that Shanxi had not reported a higher number of post-vaccination reaction reports than was normal compared with nationwide or even international averages. Meanwhile, the China Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that a sample of Shanxi vaccines had passed regulations.
Punishing the Good
While the authorities took no action to punish those responsible in the Shanxi vaccine scandal, it did crack down on those who exposed the crime.
Wang Keqin, the reporter from China Economic Times who wrote an article called “An Investigation of the Shanxi Vaccine Chaos,” was fired, as was the chief editor who approved the publication of the report.
Chinese regime policy makes unsafe pharmaceuticals a low-cost, low-risk, and high profit business, while rendering protection of patients’ rights nearly impossible. The sale of faulty vaccines that cause serious damage or even death in children is not punished as long as the vaccine is government-approved. Meanwhile, for the sake of vested interests, those who import and sell genuine vaccines can be prosecuted.
Around the same time as the vaccine scandals that filled the news this July, four people were given prison terms between four and seven years for “selling fake drugs.” The “fake drug” in question is a vaccine made by Pfizer. Since July 2013, Chinese authorities stopped issuing licenses for Pfizer’s Pneumococcal 7-valent conjugate vaccine. As a result, this vaccine was unavailable in China for three years.
Shanghai’s Meihua Clinic helped parents obtain the Pfizer vaccine from overseas suppliers, and was discovered by the authorities. Despite intense petitioning on the part of the customers, who vouched for the vaccine’s efficacy and authentic manufacture with certificates from Pfizer, the court stood by its verdict calling the vaccine fake.
Vaccine scandals are only the tip of the iceberg of the malevolence that permeates today’s China. For the last couple decades, there are been endless reports of poisonous products, from pork made from festering pig carcasses to melamine-tainted milk powder. It has become a contemporary Chinese saying that no one makes a product that he dares use for himself. people say that everybody is making product that never will be used by himself.
The normal function of government is merely to enforce the law, while popular morality is maintained by religious faith. But in China, the Communist Party systematically destroyed all religion. What replaced it was the endless struggle of Party culture.
Any schemes to get the Party authorities to address the perennial vaccine scandals that plague China are for naught, for the Party itself is the problem’s root.