Analysis of the 2017-18 China Vaccine Scandal as It Was Highlighted in News Lines

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This assignment describes the 2017-18 China Vaccine scandal in the sequence of events occurred, simultaneously showing the headlines reported and issues articled by various news lines in the process.

In July 2018, China experienced its worst public health crisis in years as stated in a South China Morning Post. Chinese vaccine maker “Changsheng Biotechnology” was found to have fabricated production and inspection records and to have arbitrarily changed process parameters and equipment during its production of freeze-dried human rabies vaccines. Furthermore, Substandard Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus vaccines produced by Changsheng Biotechnology were administered to Chinese children and 4,00,520 substandard DPT vaccines produced by Wuhan Institute of Biological Products were sold in Hebei and Chongqing. Over the third weekend of July, an anonymous post recounting all of this and more went viral on the Chinese social network, WeChat. In addition to the recent developments, it also alleged a complex web of corruption that went back decades, involving other vaccines. Although, the post was deleted the next day, by then, a full-blown national scandal had erupted. The scandals have undermined trust in government’s ability to keep the public safe. “Leaders aren’t doing their best by the people” commented a user on Weibo. “My children have already been drinking imported baby formula, now they will need to start getting imported vaccines as well” mentioned another Weibo user. Within two days, Weibo users had viewed hashtags related to the vaccine scandal more than 600 million times, according to The Guardian. A Weibo post from People’s Daily urged calm over the matter. Headline says “Don’t spread panic and anger. Relevant departments must have to respond in a timely manner with updates”. And since news of the faulty vaccines broke, clinics in Hong Kong have been receiving calls from panicked parents in mainland China. One Hong Kong clinic told South China Morning Post that its phone had been ringing nonstop. The Chinese government that week scrambled to put out statements assuring a prompt investigation. President Xi Jinping described the situation as vile and shocking to him.

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On July 25, China's drug regulator launched an investigation into all the vaccine producers all over the country. Over 15 people from Changsheng Biotechnology, including the chairman, have been detained by the authorities. The administration has also revoked the company’s certificate that is needed for production and sales of the vaccine, as stated by People’s Daily. “The administration confirmed that the company’s other vaccines now available on the market have been tested and no quality problems were found. The administration also launched further tests on the vaccine samples stored by the company.

Jilin Provincial Drug Administration announced penalty regarding Changchun Changsheng Bio-tech Co’s substandard ADPT vaccine. The company was fined 25,80,000 yuan, and 8,59,000 yuan in assets from sales of the vaccine were confiscated”, People’s Daily added in its report. According to an article from China Daily, this case was already under investigation last year. Changsheng Bio-tech Co revealed in November’17 that 2,52,600 doses of the substandard ADPT vaccine that did not meet the standard of immunity results were all sold to Shandong province and had been called back. “The substandard ADPT vaccine will not post safety threats to people’s health, but will reduce the anticipated immune effects,” Dingxiangyuan, a professional medical website, said then in November in an online reply to public concerns about the safety issue. The state drug administration confirmed in the July’18 third weekend that it was discovered in October’17 that one batch of Changsheng’s ADPT vaccine was substandard, and its production of ADPT has been suspended since then, and that a plan for reinoculation of the affected people started in February’18. Following this, several state media called for severe punishment and stricter supervision of vaccines. People’s Daily released a commentary in the weekend saying that drugmakers should stick to moral principles and make life their priority rather than profits.

The Economist released an article stating how the scandal shuck people’s trust in the government. In a news report released over the weekend, the Procuratorate Daily, a publication of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, called for stronger supervision of vaccine production and tougher penalties for the violators. Parents protested standing outside the offices of the National Health Commission, calling for stricter oversight of China’s drug industry, according to interviews with parents by China Digital Times. Holding banners showing photos of children, the demonstrators rejected assurances given by Chinese leaders that the issue was under control. “The problem is still continuing, our concerns have not been addressed”, He Fangmei, mother of a 2-year-old child, said in a telephone interview by China Digital Times after the protest. Reuters, the British journalist employing company wrote a separate report to China Digital Times noting that Li Keqiang, the premier of the State Council publicly slammed Changsheng, and pledged to resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that endanger the safety of people’s lives. His statements ordered to release from incarceration all the lawyers who helped victims in the past vaccine scandals. “From 2006 to 2009, lawyer Tang Jingling represented a group of parents whose children were left disabled after being given inefficient meningococcal vaccines. This would be requiring to quashing the five-year sentence Tang is currently serving on baseless charges of inciting subversion”. He mandated to stop harassing and prosecuting families of victims of those faulty vaccines. “In July 2015, after being given faulty vaccines at the local government-run epidemic prevention center in Henan province, a lady named Wang Nuoyi was diagnosed with brain injury and other physical illnesses. In pursuit of justice, her family wrote a few letters to the government. The authorities responded by detaining Wang’s father for five months in 2017 and prosecuting Wang’s grandmother for provoking trouble, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence for her”. He also commanded to stop punishing reporters for exposing vaccine scandals.

“In 2010, prominent investigative journalist named Wang Keqin was removed from his post at the China Economic Times after the newspaper published a story about mishandled vaccines that led to deaths of about four children in Shanxi province. Amidst the current scandal, news articles and social media posts which showed the Chinese government in a critical light continue to be censored.” Responding to these events, the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, headed by Xi Jinping, ordered the sacking of Jilin vice-governor Jin Yuhui who had overseen the food and drug regulation in the provinces since April’17. According to a South China Morning Post, “other top officials including Li Jinxiu, deputy chairman of the Jilin People’s Political Consultative Conference and a former provincial food and drug chief; Changchun mayor Liu Changlong; and Bi Jingquan, party secretary and deputy director of the State Market Regulatory Administration in Beijing also lost their jobs. Committee also asked Jiang Zhiying, a top party official from Jilin, and Jiao Hong, director of China’s national drug regulator, to make a deep self-inspection, and imposed penalties on 35 other unidentified officials.

Meanwhile, the National Supervisory Commission, the country’s anticorruption super agency, launched an official investigation into Wu Zhen, former deputy director of the China Food and Drug Administration who was also in charge of drug registration and management”. South China Morning Post also adds the Politburo Standing Committee’s statement that Changchun’s vaccine scandal exposed many defects and loopholes in the country’s drug regulatory and vaccine production system while it also called for severe punishments for the violators and introduced new measures to beef up supervision of vaccine and drug production. The Shenzhen Stock Exchange over that third weekend, made an online announcement that it sent letters to Changsheng Bio-tech Co calling for early disclosure of the two cases to the public. “We will maintain strict supervision over the listed company’s information disclosure responsibility according to the law and will guarantee legal rights of all the investors”, it said in the announcement made. The Shenzhen Stock Exchange posted a reply from Changsheng Bio-tech Co later on its website. It says, “We feel very guilty about what has occurred, and we apologize to all the people vaccinated and to all the investors”. The company added that it will surely learn a lesson.

As stated by China Digital Times, Pundits and media outlets began describing this incident as the worst public-health scandal in years. The explosive reaction from citizens surprised some analysts, especially given that the regulatory violations followed are neither new nor rare in China’s high scandal-ridden pharmaceutical industry. Experts mention one reason this violation has struck a chord is that it threatens what Chinese value more than anything else: their children. The key root behind such frequent incident of problematic vaccine is that punishment for companies that violate regulations is too light, prompting some companies to take risks, stated Global Times in one of its articles. "If regulation is not tough, companies will always try to maximize their profits. Unless there's a major issue, companies will try to cut production costs as much as they can", a Beijing-based expert told the Global Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The Chinese vaccine market has grown rapidly in recent years on the strength of increased government support for healthcare and rising parental attention to having children vaccinated, as a result, domestic companies have prospered”, Li Tianquan, co-founder of domestic healthcare big data platform noted. Global Times also adds that this brewing scandal which has sparked nationwide outrage, could pose serious challenges for a domestic industry that has seen rapid growth in recent years but experienced a series of scandals.

“The growing concerns over the safety of the whole domestic vaccine industry, triggered by the above incidents, could also turn Chinese consumers to foreign alternatives and prompt stricter regulations. These factors are likely to result in decline of the skyrocketing profits of domestic companies”, experts stated. "The public's distrust of domestic drug companies has only been intensified and after this incident, some will actually look towards foreign vaccines instead of domestic ones", Li told the Global Times.

As a conclusion for this assignment, it can be seen how social media has contributed to the spread of issue amongst the general public. The role played by the various news articles in taking the issue further to the authorities can also be clearly seen. Through the statements accounted by various offline and online newspapers, it can be deduced which segments of the issue the different news lines have focused and reported on.

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