Pfizer warns of counterfeit versions of its COVID-19 vaccine

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Pfizer says it is aware of counterfeit versions of its COVID-19 vaccine, which the drugmaker developed with BioNTech, as criminals seek to cash in on global demand for the shots that continues to outpace supply, reports CBS News.

The fake versions of its vaccine were found in Mexico and Poland, a Pfizer spokesperson said confirming an earlier report from the Wall Street Journal about the fakes. The vials recovered in Mexico also had fraudulent labelling, while a substance inside vials in Poland was likely an anti-wrinkle treatment, according to the company.

Pfizer is working with governments, law enforcement, health care providers and others to combat the illegal activity. The pharmaceutical firm urged patients not to buy vaccines online, stressing that no legitimate vaccine is sold that way. People can only get safely and legitimately immunised against the coronavirus at official vaccination sites or at certified health care providers.

“We are cognisant that in this type of environment – fuelled by the ease and convenience of e-commerce and anonymity afforded by the Internet – there will be an increase in the prevalence of fraud, counterfeit and other illicit activity as it relates to vaccines and treatments for COVID-19,” the Pfizer spokesperson is quoted in CBS News as saying.

Pfizer’s discovery of counterfeit inoculations follows last month’s seizure of thousands of FAKE COVID-19 vaccines in warehouses and manufacturing facilities in China and South Africa, with more than 80 arrested, according to the international policing organisation Interpol. About 400 ampoules — equivalent to about 2,400 doses — containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng. Officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks.

Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested.

“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine-related crime,” Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock, was quoted as saying last month.

Investigations into counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines by Interpol and the US Department of Homeland Security culminated in last month’s raids. The agencies have since warned against buying alleged COVID-19 vaccines online.

“With criminal groups producing, distributing and selling fake vaccines, the risks to the public are clear: these can include buying a product which not only does not protect against COVID-19, but poses a serious health hazard if ingested or injected. Such products are not tested, regulated or safety-checked,” the agencies said.

Interpol said it’s also received information on fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health entities such as nursing homes. And, CBS News reports, late last month, the World Health Organisation signalled its concern about criminal groups potentially exploiting the huge unmet global demand for vaccines, noting that some organisations had received “suspicious offers” to supply COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are also aware of vaccines being diverted and reintroduced into the supply chain, with no guarantee that cold chain has been maintained, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Some falsified products are also being sold as vaccines on the Internet, especially on the dark web, and we are aware of other reports of corruption and re-use of empty vaccine vials.”

 

Full CBS News report (Open access)

WSJ report (Restricted access)


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