China premier orders probe of vaccine makers

Hong Kong • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (picture) ordered the government to investigate the nation’s vaccine industry after violations found at a biologics manufacturer heightened consumer concerns about drug safety.

Shares of vaccine makers tumbled in Shanghai and Shenzhen after Li said China will crack down on crimes that endanger people’s lives and hold perpetrators responsible. The premier’s order followed an outcry on social media after Changsheng Bio-Technology Co was fined for having produced and sold low-quality vaccines for infants, as well as found to have fabricated production and inspection data on a rabies vaccine. China’s drug regulator will vet all vaccine makers, China Central Television reported.

Social media users on platforms WeChat and Weibo criticised what many said was lax enforcement by the regulator and government on vaccines. Worried parents also shared articles on how Chinese families can vaccinate their children in Hong Kong, while expressing concern about fake or poor-quality vaccines available in China.

China’s securities regulator is also investigating Changsheng over disclosure violations, the company said in a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange yesterday. Changsheng, which has a market capitalisation of more than US$2 billion, said it will cooperate with the investigation. The stock dropped by the 10% daily limit as trading resumed following a suspension during morning trading. The shares fell that amount every day last week after the company disclosed the violations.

The biologics manufacturer said on July 19 it was fined about three million yuan (RM2.03 million) for producing and selling poor quality infant vaccines, after China’s drug regulator last year probed violations in its manufacturing of a childhood vaccine that protects against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria. The company said it has stopped production of the infant vaccines.

That disclosure came after Changsheng said on July 16 that it halted production and recalled a rabies vaccine under orders from the government. The company, based in the north eastern city of Changchun, issued an apology to vaccine users and investors in a statement on Sunday evening.

Li’s call for an industry-wide investigation caused stocks to tumble, with shares of many vaccine companies falling by the daily limit yesterday. — Bloomberg