South African authorities have seized hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines following a global alert issued by Interpol warning vaccines would be a prime target for criminal networks.
Some 400 ampoules – equivalent to around 2,400 doses – containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national.
In China, police successfully identified a network selling fake COVID-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene.
The investigation was supported and facilitated by Interpol’s Illicit Goods and Global Health (IGGH) Programme.
Arrests follow global alert
The arrests came just weeks after Interpol issued a warning about organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
The alert also included details and images of genuine vaccines and authorized shipping methods provided by pharmaceutical companies to assist in the identification of fake vials.
In December last year, the global police co-ordination agency had warned that organised criminal networks could look to sell fake shots.
Interpol said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries.
“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives,” said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.
Tip of the iceberg
“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
“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.
“Since COVID-19 reached the shores of South Africa, the government has adopted an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach. This, together with our association with counterparts from all Interpol member countries, is proving to be very effective as we have seen in the arrests for foreign nationals attempting to peddle fake vaccines to unsuspecting people within South Africa,” said Brigadier Vish Naidoo, South African Police National Spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said: “The Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security. Chinese police are conducting a targeted campaign to prevent and crack down on crimes related to vaccines, proactively investigating and combating crimes related to vaccines in accordance with law. We will further strengthen the constructive cooperation with Interpol and law enforcement agencies of other countries to effectively prevent such crimes.”
Investigations are continuing, and in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China, Interpol is also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.
Interpol is again warning the public that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online. Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.
Anyone who buys these drugs is putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organized criminals.