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Fake CoVid-19 vaccines are becoming more common, says Interpol after arrests.

FCRO Subsection: 
Editorial Staff

Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous. - Interpol.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that vaccines would be the next vehicle, after personal protective equipment, for fraudsters capitalising on the world's anxiety to find a fix for CoVid-19.

After all, labels and vials aren't exactly difficult to make or come by - and there are very, very established production and distribution networks for a wide range of illegal, and illegally trafficked, copies, entirely counterfeit and somewhere in between drugs.

What is more surprising is that for something with such an opportunity to have taken active steps to combat these risks before distribution of CoVid-19 vaccines started, it's not been done or not been done effectively.

Yesterday, Interpol issued a statement that included this: "Some 400 ampoules - equivalent to around 2,400 doses - containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng, where [South African Police] 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 counterfeit 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."

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security contributed to the Interpol media release, saying "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."

While vaccine manufacturers have released information as to the distribution system and tracking, it is surprising that this remains somewhat primitive, it appears.

Having said that, the fakes have the hallmarks of appearing to target those outside the formal health sector: companies wanting to jump national queues to inoculate their workforces, anxious individuals looking to protect families and the like. Also, by using fake websites, the criminals can take in even healthcare businesses such as nursing homes.

As countries are reported to be "scrambling" to order (let's not get too far ahead and think about taking delivery) there are those that are looking for ways to bypass bureaucratic systems, even though those systems are, often but not always, intended to protect those who want to leapfrog them.

If we look at the wider drugs trade, we note that India and China are the major producers of off-label (i.e. generic versions of) drugs and of counterfeits. One of the issues raised by vaccines policies is that there is licensing of production of some vaccines and "bottle filling" of others. This broadens the points of origin into the supply chain.

A tracking system using a blockchain is in place for many products: if it were in full effect for all legitimate vaccines (and other drugs), then it would be possible for even individual users to check. But it isn't, it seems which means that law enforcement is dependent, as it is with all other drugs, on a combination of intelligence and happenstance to find such shipments.

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