The market for health care stocks in China, touted by numerous industry watchers as a red-hot sector just a few months ago, is in the midst of a major sell-off. The motivating factor? A widespread vaccine scandal that’s swept across the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people and catalyzed doubt and recriminations about the country’s biopharmaceutical sector.
On Tuesday, China’s main drug industry watchdog published new findings on its investigations into the matter, which center on two firms that have allegedly been manufacturing inferior vaccines and lying to regulators. The authorities are vowing tough penalties on the perpetrators (one of which, Changsheng Bio-technology Co Ltd, has publicly copped to and apologized for the debacle, which includes falsified data and the sale of more than a quarter million ineffective diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus vaccinations).
In fact, the Chinese government has already ordered the arrest of 18 individuals named in the probe. One of them is Gao Junfang, Changsheng’s chairwoman. And officials are pledging an even broader sweep to assess whether or not more individuals are liable for criminal wrongdoing.
The scandal is the latest chapter in an ongoing evolution in China’s drug market, which is seeking to break out as a major world biopharma player but still grappling with the realities of regulatory setbacks in a sprawling and still-developing nation.
But while the anger over this specific incident is palpable, luckily, it may not wind up discouraging vaccination rates in the country over the long term—as Nature points out, childhood vaccinations are mandatory in China for anyone starting school, and support for the shots (and overall immunization compliance) is extraordinarily high.
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