Fake coronavirus vaccine seizures in China, South Africa just ‘tip of the iceberg,’ Interpol warns

Washington: First came the fake medical-grade masks and coronavirus tests. Now, a new threat has emerged, global police organisation Interpol warns: fake doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Interpol said on Wednesday (Europe time) that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake vaccines – a cache it said was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Ppolicemen interrogate a suspect in connection with fake COVID-19 vaccines in a detention center in Kunshan in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province in December.Credit:AP

South African authorities recently seized 400 vials, which held around 2400 doses, of counterfeit vaccines from a warehouse outside Johannesburg, Interpol said in a report on Wednesday.

The illicit stash also included fake 3M masks. South African officers apprehended three Chinese citizens and one Zambian national in relation to the raid.

In China, police seized a large cache of fake vaccine and arrested about 80 suspects during a recent raid on a manufacturing site, Interpol said.

“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock in a statement.

Policemen seize cash in China’s Jiangsu Province in 2020, where police have arrested more than 80 suspected members of a criminal group that was manufacturing and selling fake COVID-19 vaccines, including to other countries. Credit:AP

“Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”

In December, Interpol warned of a likely growing threat of crime related to coronavirus vaccines, “with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour,” the statement said.

The report said cases of counterfeit vaccine sales had already begun.

“In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that of 3000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware,” the crime agency said.

Interpol has repeatedly stressed that coronavirus vaccines cannot be bought or sold over the internet and has urged the public to report such cases of criminal activity.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that the world’s fake medication market is worth around $US200 billion ($258 billion) a year. While most of these counterfeit products originate in Asia, Interpol warned in December that the coronavirus pandemic was spurring a growth in the illicit medication trade in East Africa.

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