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Police smash worldwide fake COVID-19 vaccine networks

Posted: Friday, March 5, 2021. 4:56 pm CST.

Photo: Interpol

By Aaron Humes: The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), based in France, is reporting significant arrests and seizures of doses of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine as the world waits impatiently for the real thing to be rolled out, the BBC says.

Chinese police arrested 80 at a fake vaccine factory where at least 3 thousand doses were found; three Chinese nationals and a Zambian were detained at a warehouse in Gauteng province, South Africa, which stored 2,400 doses. It is not clear when exactly the arrests took place. The discovery in South Africa was reported by the country’s Sunday Times newspaper at the end of December.

In a statement, INTERPOL said it was also getting reports of other fake vaccine rings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 2.5 million lives worldwide and infected nearly 115 million people, according to a Johns Hopkins University estimate.

The organization stressed that none of the approved COVID-19 vaccines are available for sale online and that any vaccine so advertised will not be legitimate, will not have been tested, and therefore may be dangerous.

Vaccines are a vital tool for overcoming the pandemic and competition is fierce worldwide to buy up available doses following the approval of a a growing number of products by medical authorities in recent months.

South Africa only started vaccinating its population on 17 February after concerns over the efficacy of vaccines against a new variant of Covid-19. No location or further details were given for the counterfeit factory in China which was, Interpol said, investigated with the help of its Illicit Goods and Global Health Programme.

A spokesperson for the Chinese ministry of public security said police there were conducting a “targeted campaign to prevent and crack down on crimes related to vaccines” and would step up constructive co-operation with Interpol and police in other countries to effectively prevent such crimes.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said that while the police operations in China and South Africa were welcome, this was “only the tip of the iceberg” when it came to Covid-19 vaccine-related crime.

In December, the organization issued a global alert warning police in its 194 member countries to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, and gave advice about how to spot fake medical products.

Last month, China arrested the leader of a multi-million-dollar scam that passed off the saline solution and mineral water as COVID-19 vaccines. The suspect, identified only as Kong, had researched the packaging designs of real vaccines before making more than 58,000 of his own doses. He was among 70 people arrested for similar crimes. According to a court ruling, Kong and his team had made a profit of US$2.78 million in their scheme.

A batch of the fake vaccines was smuggled overseas but it was not known at the time where they had been sent to.

In a case in Mexico last month, police arrested six people for allegedly trafficking fake Covid-19 vaccines in the northern border state of Nuevo León. The suspects are said to have offered vaccines for sale for the equivalent of around $2,000 per dose at a clinic in a suburb of Monterrey.


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