The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) says it has intercepted thousands of counterfeit coronavirus vaccines in South Africa and China and has made more than 80 arrests after a criminal network selling fake jabs was uncovered.
The International police organization in a statement said that some 400 vessels – equivalent to around 2,400 doses – containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, outside Johannesburg in South Africa, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3million 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.
The arrests came just weeks after INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice warning law enforcement to prepare for 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 vessels.
Interpol further revealed that in addition to the arrests made in South Africa and China, it is also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.
It further warned that: “no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online” and that “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,” the statement reads.
While reacting to the arrest made by Interpol in South Africa, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, South African Police National Spokesperson 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,”- he said.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security while condemning the act, said that: “the Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security. Chinese police are conducting a targeted campaign to prevent and the crackdown on crimes related to vaccines, proactively investigating and combating crimes related to vaccines in accordance with the law. We will further strengthen the constructive cooperation with INTERPOL and law enforcement agencies of other countries to effectively prevent such crimes.”
Interpol had earlier issued a warning in December of the possibility of drug gangs capitalizing on the global demand for vaccines by stealing real doses or selling fake ones.