- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

BEIJING (AP) - China has fired or demoted 357 local government officials for poor performance as it deals with the fallout from a nationwide public health scandal over the sale of improperly handled vaccines.

Along with punishing the officials, Beijing has ordered measures to tighten supervision over the storage and distribution of vaccines, the official Xinhua News Agency and other state media outlets reported Thursday, citing a document from the China’s Cabinet, the State Council.

In all, 192 criminal cases have been filed nationwide and 202 people detained as part of the sweeping probe, which found 45 groups involved in “improper vaccine trading,” the media reports said.

Drug wholesalers will also be forbidden from selling vaccines, and vaccines will be traced from production to usage, with special rules enacted for refrigeration and transport, the reports said.

The scandal erupted last month when China’s Food and Drug Administration announced it had discovered nine companies were reselling improperly stored or expired vaccines, meaning an unknown number of children may have received shots that provided no health benefits and could cause side effects.

The government says all the suspect doses were produced under proper conditions and did not contain impurities that could cause diseases. However, vaccines past their use-by dates or improperly refrigerated should be destroyed.

The vaccines involved fell into China’s second category of voluntary immunizations for rabies, hepatitis b and other diseases rather than those required for all children.

The revelations exposed loopholes in China’s public health oversight and a shadowy vaccine trade in which some government clinics did business with dubious middlemen.

The reports sparked an outcry among Chinese parents who say they face perennial fears over drug and food safety problems in China’s regulatory environment.

In one of the best-known cases, 300,000 children in 2008 consumed tainted infant milk formula, leading to six infant deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalizations.

China’s reputation for weak oversight of the domestic food and drug market has prompted Chinese parents to buy large quantities of infant formula while traveling overseas, especially to neighboring Hong Kong. Foreign cosmetics, health supplements and vitamins are also in hot demand.

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