A vaccine scandal in China, which has prompted angry reactions from leaders and citizens fed up with safety scares in the country, is sending ripples across the local drug market and threatening Chinese ambitions to play a larger global role.
The case has sparked anger on social media and dealt a blow to China's drug regulator, which has been struggling to clean up the world's second-biggest drug industry and promote domestically made vaccines.
There did not appear to be reports, however, of people harmed by the vaccine or having contracted rabies after receiving it.
"We will resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that endanger the safety of peoples' lives, resolutely punish lawbreakers according to the law, and resolutely and severely criticize dereliction of duty in supervision", he said.
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang looks at a letter given by Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during a meeting with Malaysia's new government advisor Daim Zainuddin at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, July 18, 2018.
In a statement released Sunday, Premier Li Keqiang said the company's conduct "violated a moral bottom line", and he pledged to "resolutely crack down" on threats to public safety, according to the Associated Press. It added some regional disease control agencies had suspended some of its other vaccines.
Changsheng shares, which resumed trading on Monday afternoon session after being suspended in the morning, were down 10 percent. They have lost 40% of their value since July 13. The disclosure was the company's second major scandal in a week: just days earlier, a probe by state food and drug regulators announced that Changsheng had distributed more than 250,000 doses of a "substandard" DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine, which was discovered a year ago.
China's pharmaceutical industry has been plagued with such scandals, with another company Wuhan Institute of Biological Products also being implicated in the DPT vaccine issue previous year and the police busting a gang for selling around $90 million worth of illegal vaccines on the black market in 2016. The wider CSI 300 healthcare index was down about 5 percent.
Marina Cui - a 25-year-old mother from the southwestern Yunnan province whose five-month old child took a DPT vaccine last week - said the latest revelations had made her anxious about the overall safety of vaccines.
"The recent fake vaccine scandal has really made me very scared", she said, adding she wanted clear information from authorities, rather than people with little knowledge or expertise stirring up parents' emotional concerns.
An editorial Monday in the state-run China Daily warned that the case could become a public health crisis if it is not handled "in a reasonable and transparent manner".
"The government needs to act as soon as possible to let the public know it is resolved to address the issue and will punish any wrongdoers without mercy", it said.
Late Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency ran an editorial calling for strict punishment for any violations, big or small, in the vaccine industry and for regulators to close loopholes and tighten oversight of the industry.