The World Health Organization (WHO) fully supports China’s National Drug Administration’s (NDA’s) actions to withhold the problematic batches of rabies vaccine and ensure they are not placed on the market.

Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

During an unannounced inspection at the manufacturing site of Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Ltd., a vaccine manufacturer in China’s northeastern Jilin province, the NDA discovered problems of data integrity in the production of the batches of rabies vaccine. Authorities have withheld all vaccines involved, to prevent their reaching patients, and suspended production at the company. WHO awaits the results of further investigations and stands ready to provide support to national health authorities.

“Regulatory oversight of vaccines is critically important. It is the government’s primary method of ensuring that the vaccines produced and used in China are safe, of good quality and effective,” said Gauden Galea, WHO Representative for China. “This incident shows that when regulatory oversight works well, potential risks can be averted.”

Good manufacturing and regulatory practices are designed to prevent problems in the process of ensuring quality vaccines. But when problems are found, the regulator must take action. WHO commends the quick and transparent actions taken by China NDA to suspend production at the company and investigate these incidents.

WHO assessed the national regulatory authorities in 2010 and 2014, and found that they met WHO criteria as a functional regulator for vaccines with a clear commitment to continual improvement. WHO welcomes the fact that China’s NDA continues to work with WHO’s Regulatory Systems Strengthening program, as it has been doing for nearly 20 years. While the current incident is clearly regrettable, the detection of this event by an unannounced inspection shows that the regulatory authority’s system of checks and balances to protect population health is working.

WHO reiterates that quality-assured vaccines are critical for disease prevention and urges countries to continue using this cost-effective public health intervention. The Expanded Program on Immunization in China has brought results. It has made China free from polio and significantly reduced vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A and B among children. To that end, WHO is also supporting vaccine manufacturers in China to ensure that they comply with international standards and meet WHO Prequalification expectations.