South African authorities have seized hundreds of fake Covid-19 vaccines following a global alert issued by Interpol, the international criminal police organisation.
Some 400 vials – equivalent to around 2,400 doses – containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national, it said.
The arrests came just weeks after Interpol issued an orange notice warning law enforcement to prepare for organised 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 vials.
“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol secretary general, Jürgen Stock.
“Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.
“Since Covid-19 reached the shores of South Africa, the government has adopted an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach, said Brigadier Vish Naidoo, South African Police national spokesperson.
“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”.
Interpol said that investigations are continuing, and in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China, it has also received additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.
The group warned that no approved vaccines are 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 may be dangerous.
“Anyone who buys these drugs is putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organised criminals.”
The discovery of fake vaccines comes as the South African government ramps up its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
As of Wednesday (3 March), the total number of vaccines administered across the country is 83,570. A total of 160,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been delivered to the country to date.