Fake Covid-19 vaccines seized
March 2021: Hundreds of illicit vaccines have been seized by South African authorities and arrests made in South Africa and China. The distribution network was dismantled following a global alert issued by Interpol, which warned that 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 in South Africa. Officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks. Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested.
In China, police identified a network that was selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines. Following a raid on the manufacturing premises, 80 suspects were arrested and more than 3,000 fake vaccines were seized at the scene.
The arrests came just weeks after Interpol issued an Orange Notice that warned international law enforcement authorities to prepare for organised crime networks that would target Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
The alert included details and images of genuine vaccines and authorised shipping methods provided by pharmaceutical companies to assist in the identification of fake vials.
It again underlined the unique role played by Interpol in ensuring law enforcement across its 194 member countries are updated on crime trends and can swiftly and securely exchange information. However, there is still much work to be done. “Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine related crime,” suggested Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General.
“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. These arrests underline the unique role of Interpol in bringing together key players from both the public and private sectors to protect public safety,” Stock said.
"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 combatting crimes related to vaccines in accordance with law. We will further strengthen the constructive co-operation with Interpol and law enforcement agencies of other countries to effectively prevent such crimes."
Investigations are ongoing and in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China Interpol has also received additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies such as nursing homes.
Interpol stressed to the public that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online and it says that any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.