South African and Chinese police seized thousands of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines after the global policing agency, INTERPOL, issued a worldwide warning that vaccines would be a prime target for criminal syndicates.
Approximately 400 fake vaccine ampoules, which are equal to about 2400 doses, were discovered in a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng, INTERPOL announced on Wednesday, March 3.
South African authorities also recovered a large number of fake 3M masks. Four individuals, three from China and one from Zambia, were apprehended at the scene.
In the Chinese operation, police successfully identified and raided a fake vaccine network. Authorities stormed the manufacturing premises and arrested 80 suspects and seized more than 3000 fake vaccines.
The arrests follow an Orange Notice warning issued by INTERPOL a few weeks ago, which alerted law enforcement to prepare for organised crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both, physically and online.
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock warned that the first seizures are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine-related crime,” said Stock.
“These arrests, underline the unique role of INTERPOL in bringing together key players from both the public and private sectors to protect public safety,” he added.
South African Police National Spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the government has instituted an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach since the virus entered the country.
“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 Naidoo.
INTERPOL said investigations are continuing and added that it received reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.
The international agency asserted that no approved COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for purchase online and warned the public that any doses being advertised on the internet will not be legitimate and may even be dangerous, as they have not been tested.