It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? Fake COVID vaccines. The U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which is one of the few companies producing the COVID vaccine, has identified counterfeit versions of their own drug in Mexico and Poland.
The doses, seized by authorities in both countries, were tested by Pfizer and confirmed to be fake. The COVID vaccine vials in Mexico had false labels on them while the vials in Poland, after being tested, are believed to be anti-wrinkle treatment.
According to Poland’s health minister, the risk of any counterfeit vaccine hitting official circulation is “practically non-existent.” The WHO (not the rock band but the World Health Organization) warns that the fake vaccines “pose a serious risk to global public health”.
Authorities seized the counterfeit doses in separate investigations in the two countries. In Mexico, approximately 80 people received the fake doses, which so far appear to have been harmless to the patients, but as they were fake, they offered zero protection against the virus.
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the Mexican government’s spokesman on COVID-related issues, reported that the countries cyber police detected the fake vaccines after they had been offered on social media upwards of $2,500 per dose. The vials were eventually recovered in beach-type beer coolers, had different lot numbers, and incorrect expiration dates on them.
In Poland, their authorities claim no one in their country received any of the fake vaccines. Authorities were able to confiscate them from a man’s apartment.
With the vaccine just recently going into the global rollout, it makes for an abundance of criminal activity relating to the virus. “Everybody on the planet needs it. Many are desperate for it,” Lev Kubiak, Pfizer’s world head of security, said via The Wall Street Journal. “We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals.”
In the United States, Mexico, and other countries, officials have taken down numerous websites claiming to offer the vaccine or that they have an affiliation with the makers of the vaccine, such as Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson. But the criminal activity isn’t only aimed at selling fake vaccines, no, the very real websites also appear to be trying to obtain consumers’ personal information in order to be used in identity-theft schemes.
Government officials worldwide say that fake COVID shots can easily be distinguished from real ones. The real vaccines are only being sold to governments and not on the internet. Anything sold on the internet will be counterfeit and in turn, could be lethal.
Mexico and Poland are not the only countries that have been dealing with the surge in counterfeit COVID vaccines. Last month, police in South Africa and China took hold of thousands of doses of counterfeit vaccines from warehouses and manufacturing plants. Dozens of arrests were made.
Back in Mexico, authorities are also investigating a shipment that contained nearly 6,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine (Russia’s COVID vaccine). These were confiscated from a private plane that was scheduled to make their final destination Honduras.
The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, has been looking for months into fraud-related activity surrounding the COVID pandemic. To date, they have recovered some $48 million worth of phony personal protection gear, masks, and other related products.
So far, there haven’t been any counterfeit vaccines identified in the United States. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t those out there trying, especially when the demand is so high and there isn’t enough product to meet that demand. Tony Pelli, a drug security consultant with BSI Group, says via WSJ, “Whenever you see this mismatch between demand and supply in certain areas, there are people who are willing to fill that difference with counterfeits. For new drugs, it’s usually just a matter of time before you see people trying to counterfeit them.”
Director of the Intellectual Property Rights center Steve Francis says, “We’ve never seen so much fraud and misinformation and schemes.” They, together with big pharma groups such as Pfizer began working last year in preparation for the eventual scams and counterfeiting.
With desperation to obtain the vaccine reaching higher levels, the ease in which consumers can be fooled magnifies. If you happen to be one of those wishing to get vaccinated, go about it the proper way and not over the internet. Unless, of course, you’re looking to get rid of a few wrinkles.
Be smart, stay safe.