- Interpol announced it has confiscated thousands of vials of counterfeit coronavirus vaccine.
- Smugglers in South Africa and China were busted in the scam.
- The head of Interpol warned that these fake vaccines are just “the tip of the iceberg.”
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Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, announced on Wednesday it had broken up a global criminal network smuggling vials of fake COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
Around 2,400 doses of counterfeit coronavirus vaccine were seized from a warehouse outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, along with counterfeit 3M masks. Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested.
Around the same time in China, law enforcement agents arrested 80 people they say are connected to the counterfeit products, and uncovered an additional 3,000 vials of fake vaccine.
Authorities said the counterfeit vaccine was made from saline solution.
Interpol had been tracking the counterfeit smugglers for some time. In December of last year, it issued what it calls an “orange alert,” notifying its 194 member countries that counterfeiting of both vaccine and coronavirus tests could be on the rise. The agency warned that counterfeiters are especially likely to try to sell fake medical products online.
Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s secretary general, urged consumers to avoid purchasing anything advertised as a coronavirus vaccine on the internet.
“Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web will not be legitimate, will not have been tested, and may be dangerous,” he said in a statement. “Anyone who buys these drugs is putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organized criminals.”
Stock added that the recent bust of counterfeit vaccines is “only the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine-related crime.”
He said the agency was also looking into fake vaccine scams targeting nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.