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JAKARTA – Indonesian lawmakers on Monday urged authorities to seize from hospitals and health clinics all vaccines made by unapproved manufacturers, after police exposed a syndicate selling fake child vaccines for more than a decade.
In a country where counterfeit drugs are widespread, the case deals a blow to government health regulators whom many believed to have kept a tight leash on the distribution of vaccines.
Authorities have shut some private health facilities after police smashed a drug-making ring last week that sold fake and potentially harmful booster vaccines for measles, hepatitis B and other viruses in Jakarta and the island of Java.
Police launched investigations this year following reports of several children becoming ill after vaccinations, but it was not clear how many received the fake drugs.
"This is definitely an emergency," Dede Yusuf, chief of a parliamentary panel on health issues, told reporters before a hearing with government health officials.
"We don't know what the effect of this medication is.
"And if it has been going on since 2003 as reported, what is the status of the children who have received it? We want to know the answers."
Health Minister Nila Djoewita Moeloek sought to reassure parents that nearly all vaccines were from government-approved manufacturers, adding that she had received no reports of illnesses related to fake vaccinations.
"The Ministry of Health ensures that the vaccines circulated in the health service units are safe and are not harmful," the ministry said in a statement.
"It is alleged that the circulation of the fake vaccines are not more than 1 percent in Jakarta, Banten and West Java."
Parents could have their children re-vaccinated if they are suspected to have received the fake drugs, the minister added.
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 14 distributors and makers of the fake vaccines, whose ingredients included the antibiotic gentamicin and saline.
The suspects made up to 60 million rupiah ($4,500) a week, police said.
(Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)