We were pleased to discover today that RUC News Workshop (RUC新闻坊), the official WeChat account of Renmin University of China’s School of Journalism and Communication, has posted a helpful timeline and summary of the development of the ongoing vaccine scandal in China. We share a translation of the timeline below.

This is obviously a story with potentially huge implications for China’s leadership. Under Xi Jinping, the Party has managed quite effectively to keep scandal out of the headlines, something evident before Xi’s hardline February 2016 speech on media policy. This story, with its clear indication of deeper institutional problems, will surely be aggressively curtailed by censors in coming days. But its development is in many ways eerily familiar — not unlike the bursts of coverage, and often decent reporting, that we grew accustomed to seeing in the heyday of the commercial press in China, up through the Hu Jintao era.

RUC News Workshop notes that the incident, which is being referred to in Chinese as the “Changsheng Bio-Tech Problem Vaccine Incident” (长生生物问题疫苗事件), first unfolded on July 15, but was slow to gain public attention — finally culminating yesterday with an official response from Premier Li Keqiang. RUC News Workshop divides the scandal so far into three phases.

  1. July 15-July 20: The vaccine scandal goes on for 6 days, but failed to draw strong attention from media and from the public [on social media].
  2. July 21: An article called “Vaccine King” (疫苗之王) posted to a WeChat public account is shared widely through WeChat groups, “lighting the fuse” of commentary and analysis of the story.
  3. July 22: The vaccine scandal is fiercely discussed and steadily heats up. Finally, CCTV News, the People’s Daily, The Beijing News and other “mainstream,” meaning Party-run, media finally make their voices heard.

Our translation of the RUC News Workshop timeline follows, with some edits and cuts for clarity — and a few notes and links here and there.

TIMELINE

July 15, 2018
A notice issued by the China Food and Drug Administration says that fabricated productions records had been discovered for rabies vaccines produced by Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Limited (长春长生生物科技有限责任公司), known for short as Changchun Changsheng (长春长生). According to the notice, the company had been ordered to stop production, and its Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification (生产质量管理规范证书) had been revoked. According to a news report by the Shanghai-based outlet Jiemian, the investigation had been prompted by an older staff member working inside a production facility who had come forward.

July 16, 2018
Changchun Changsheng’s share price sinks and several large shareholders dump their holdings.

July 17, 2018
Changchun Changsheng issues a public response to the situation, assuring customers there are no problems. Changchun Changsheng’s parent company, “Changsheng Bio-Technology Company” (长生生物科技股份有限公司), known for short as Changchun Bio-Tech (长生生物), issues a statement saying that all rabies vaccines that have entered the market comply with quality regulations and there is no cause for concern.

July 19, 2018
The incident is further fueled as Changchun Bio-Tech issues a statement saying that its subsidiary, Changchun Changcheng, had previously received a penalty notice (处罚书) from health authorities in Jilin province notifying them that a batch of their DPT vaccines did not comply with safety regulations. The notice [which dated the start of the investigation to October 2017] said that the company’s DPT vaccines had been deemed “inferior medicines” not meeting standards. The company had been fined 3.44 million yuan, and some of its vaccine stocks were seized.

The first page of the notice issued by authorities in Jilin province to Changchun Changsheng. SOURCE: The Paper.

July 20, 2018
The news, based on the previously mentioned notice, that problems with the vaccines had apparently been discovered, prompting an investigation, by October 27, 2017, drew anger from many Chinese. According to the timestamp accompanying the notice as it was made public on the official website of the Jilin Food and Drug Administration, it had not been posted until July 18. The gap between now and the start of the investigation by the Jilin Food and Drug Administration into the sale of these 250,000 doses of vaccine in Shandong was already close to 9 months. But Changchun Changsheng had made no mentioned whatsoever of the notice from health authorities in its 2017 annual report.

It is worth noting that in November 2017 another batch of DPT vaccines had shown problems, this time from Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Co. Ltd. (武汉生物制品研究所有限责任公司) — [whose website is now taken down]. And in 2016, another batch of DPT vaccines from Changchun Changsheng had failed to pass inspection.

July 22, 2018
Responses come from official media. CCTV Finance runs a report saying the vaccine problem must be thoroughly investigated, and that “comprehensive oversight mechanisms” (完善的监管机制) and emergency response systems must be put in place. The official Xinhua News Agency points out that mishaps cannot happen when it comes to vaccines, and that “loss of confidence” [in vaccines] is even more terrible than “loss of efficacy.” The Food and Drug Administration issues a notice on the case, saying it has already ordered vaccine manufacturers across the country to inspect their processes, ensuring production is strictly compliant with GMP production standards. The Food and Drug Administration says it will also carry out unannounced inspections across the country, dealing strictly with lawbreakers.

At 11PM on July 22, an article appears on the website of China’s central government: “Li Keqiang Issues Official Comment on the Vaccine Incident: We Must Give the People of the Country a Clear Explanation” (李克强就疫苗事件作出批示:必须给全国人民一个明明白白的交代). The article says: “Premier Li Keqiang has issued official comments on the vaccine incident: This vaccine scandal has crossed a moral red line for the people, and we must give the people of the country a clear explanation.”In his official comments, Li Keqiang demands that the State Council immediately dispatch an inspection team, conducting a thorough investigation of the entire chain of vaccine manufacture and distribution. The full facts must be ascertained, he says, and those companies and people responsible be “resolutely punished and in no way appeased.”