Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping personally presided over a hearing, along with the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party, on the dissemination of hundreds of thousands of faulty vaccines made in China by the company Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Limited on Thursday.
The hearing resulted in dozens of firings of officials both within the Changsheng company and within local governments in the areas affected where Changsheng is believed to have administered at least half a million faulty vaccines. Beijing has begun efforts to re-vaccinate the children affected—who, due to the incompetence of the vaccines received, are essentially unimmunized—and confirm the total number of children involved.
The scandal has become arguably the most embarrassing moment in Xi Jinping’s tenure as leader of the country. Chinese censors have been forced to work quickly to erase angry criticism of the government’s handling of the situation in social media and calm spontaneous protests by the parents of the children hurt by the false vaccines.
According to Chinese state outlet Xinhua, Xi and the Standing Committee, the top-ranked communists in the country, held a meeting to discuss the fate of both medical and political officials involved in the scandal. “A total of 35 non-centrally-administered officials will be held accountable,” Xinhua reported, while the total number of officials fired reportedly reached 40.
Among those dismissed are several Communist Party officials in Jilin province, where Changsheng is headquartered. Vice Governor Jin Yuhui, who ran oversight for food and drug approvals in the province, was removed from his post. His predecessor, Li Jinxiu, was asked to resign from the post he currently holds, vice chairman of the Jilin Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, because he was responsible for oversight on Changsheng from December 2015 to April 2017, when Jin took over. Xi’s Standing Committee also fired Mayor Liu Changlong of the capital of Jilin, Changchun.
Xinhua notes that several other political leaders in Jilin were urged to “make profound self-examinations,” without elaborating.
The state news outlet went out of its way to emphasize that Xi Jinping was personally invested in the case.
“The meeting was presided over by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, who attaches great attention to the case and has made important instructions over it on multiple occasions,” Xinhua claimed. “He stressed that those involved in the case should be held accountable and punished severely according to the law.”
“Xi also instructed all-out efforts to be made to ensure the bottom line of safety and safeguard the public interest and social stability, according to the meeting,” it asserted.
The standing committee issued a statement following the meeting asserting that the Changsheng case “is a serious offense, in which the vaccine producer violated the law and relevant standards and regulations in pursuit of profits and fabricated false production inspection records.” It added that “a number of local government officials and supervisory departments were found in dereliction of duty.”
Changsheng was China’s second-largest vaccine manufacturer when the scandal broke, the product of corruption rather than human error. Changsheng workers were found to have used expired materials to make vaccines for rabies, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus, rendering the final product essentially useless. The company then fabricated test results for the vaccines manufactured to claim that they were functional. Changsheng’s company stock has lost over 77 percent of its value since the scandal broke, and most of its top officers have been arrested.
The top chairwoman of the company, Gao Junfang, and 17 other Changsheng officials are facing criminal prosecution. The Communist Party leaders at the meeting Thursday also vowed to seize “illegal gains” made from selling the faulty vaccines. Investigations into local officials also suggest that Beijing suspects corruption to have allowed Changsheng to pass off its false vaccines as legitimate using counterfeit test results; Xi is also involving Beijing’s anti-corruption task force in the investigation.
The scandal has been a devastating blow to both China’s medical technology industry and its anemic economy in general. The Financial Times notes that the Chinese stock market closed at a near two-year low on Friday following the revelations from the Changsheng hearing. The scandal has also triggered rare protests against Xi’s government in areas where children received the vaccines. Adding to the disarray, the head of the immunization program in Shandong province, where received some of the vaccines, was hospitalized shortly after the revelations regarding Changsheng. Rumors spread rapidly that Song Lizhi had attempted to commit suicide with an overdose of insulin.