JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia on Friday ordered an immediate overhaul of the food and drug monitoring agency, a month after police uncovered a syndicate selling fake imported child vaccines to hospitals, pharmacies and clinics over the past decade.
The scandal sparked a public uproar and exposed major government deficiencies in ensuring drug safety amid a boom in Indonesia’s health industry.
Investigators continue to unravel how widespread the reach of a drug-making ring that sold fake booster vaccines for hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough to health facilities in Jakarta and the island of Java.
No illnesses or deaths have been directly linked to the fake vaccines.
“We can’t be half-hearted with this vaccine problem, and yesterday the president decided to immediately restructure the (food and drug agency)” Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said in a statement.
“With this we hope that this kind of thing won’t be repeated.”
The Food and Drugs Agency (FDA) has come under particular fire after officials said they were aware of the fake vaccine problem as early as 2013. But little was done until a police investigation earlier this year exposed the syndicate, leading to at least 18 arrests so far.
Under pressure from parliament, the health ministry on Thursday published the names of 14 more health facilities around Jakarta that administered the fake vaccines, prompting crowds of parents at hospitals demanding information on whether their children were victims.
Health authorities have sought to reassure parents that the fake vaccines were not harmful and their children could get re-vaccinated under a government program to be launched next week.
Police uncovered the syndicate after a pharmacist in Bekasi, near Jakarta, was arrested in May for selling medicine without a license. The drugs turned out to be fake and led to the arrest of more than a dozen distributors and makers of the fake vaccines.
Investigators said they were also questioning doctors and hospital managers in the case.
“In some cases, directors signed the purchases of these vaccines, which means we need to evaluate management,” Health Minister Nila Moeloek told MetroTV.
“We must be thorough. We have to finish this.”
Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Nick Macfie