Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake Covid-19 vaccines and made more than 80 arrests after discovering a criminal network distributing fake jabs, according to Interpol.
The export scam was discovered after police in eastern China identified a network selling counterfeit vaccines. Agents raided a manufacturing facility and found more than 3,000 fake vaccines. More than 80 people have been arrested.
Separately, South African police found 400 vials of fake vaccine, enough for around 2,400 doses, in a warehouse just outside Johannesburg. Police also confiscated a large quantity of counterfeit masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian.
The joint investigation was coordinated by Interpol’s Illicit Goods and Global Health program, which works to prevent criminals from exploiting the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Jürgen Stock, secretary general of Interpol, warned that the discovery of this network represented “only the tip of the iceberg” of crime related to vaccines. The agency is following other reports of fake vaccine distribution and attempted scams targeting healthcare organizations, such as nursing homes.
Interpol highlighted in December the growing risk that criminal gangs will seek to capitalize on global demand for Covid-19 vaccines by selling fake inoculations or stealing real ones. The agency said the pandemic had already triggered “unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior” and urged its 194 member countries to foster close cooperation between police and health officials.
A Financial Times study has already revealed the boom vaccines for sale on the dark web, with providers offering ‘stealth delivery’, overnight shipping, and demanding bitcoin payments. Experts said many of the photos announced were either fake or would never be sent.
Security officials in the UK and US have issued separate warnings that vaccine research is increasingly becoming a spy target for hostile countries who may also seek to disrupt drug chains. supply.
Last summer, the UK’s National Cyber Security Center, an affiliate of GCHQ, said Russian state-backed hackers had targeted pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions involved in vaccine research in the UK, US and Canada. The United States has accused China of hacking American health and research facilities working on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and testing.
Brigadier Vish Naidoo, national police spokesperson for South Africa, praised Interpol’s coordination efforts to help apprehend “foreign nationals trying to sell fake vaccines to unsuspecting people” in his country. South Africa has so far administered only 70,500 doses, which equates to 0.1 dose per 100 people, according to the Monitoring of FT vaccines.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said the Chinese government attached “great importance” to vaccine safety.
“Chinese police are leading a targeted campaign to prevent and suppress vaccine-related crimes, proactively investigating and combating vaccine-related crimes according to the law,” the spokesperson said.