INTERPOL breaks up ‘fake vaccine network’ in South Africa, China

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Police in South Africa and China have seized thousands of doses of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine and made dozens of arrests, International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) stated on Wednesday.

Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian were detained at a warehouse in Gauteng, South Africa, where ampoules containing 2,400 doses were discovered.

In China, police made 80 arrests at a factory allegedly making the fake vaccine, where at least 3,000 doses were found.

INTERPOL said it was also getting reports of other fake vaccine rings.  INTERPOL, which is based in Lyon, France, facilitates international co-operation between police forces and crime control.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 2.5 million lives worldwide and infected nearly 115 million people, according to a Johns Hopkins University estimate.

Vaccines are a vital tool for overcoming the pandemic and competition is fierce worldwide following the approval of a growing number of brands by medical authorities in recent months.

Announcing the dismantling of the suspected fake vaccine network, Interpol stressed that no approved vaccines were “currently available for sale online”.

“Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and maybe dangerous,” it said.

In Germiston, Gauteng, South African police found about 400 vials – the equivalent of around 2,400 doses – of the fake vaccine as well as a “large quantity” of fake 3M masks, Interpol said.  It released images of boxes and packages in the warehouse.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo, South African Police national spokesperson, said that co-operation with other Interpol member states was proving “very effective”, as witnessed by the “arrest of foreign nationals attempting to peddle fake vaccines to unsuspecting people within South Africa”.

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South Africa only started vaccinating its population on 17 February after concerns over the efficacy of vaccines against a new variant of COVID-19.

No location or further details were given for the counterfeit factory in China which was, INTERPOL said, investigated with the help of its Illicit Goods and Global Health Programme.

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