Police warning over dangerous fake coronavirus vaccines

4 December 2020, 18:12 | Updated: 4 December 2020, 19:08

Europol has raised concerns gangs could try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines
Europol has raised concerns gangs could try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Europol has issued a warning over possible scams linked to Covid-19, with concerns that gangs could try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines.

The EU's law enforcement agency on Friday issued an "early warning notification" stating organised crime had already latched onto opportunities presented by the pandemic.

"Once a legitimate vaccine enters the market, counterfeited versions of the specific vaccine brand are expected to circulate rapidly," Europol said.

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"Counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines may represent a significant public health threat if they are ineffective at best or toxic at worst, given their production in underground labs without hygiene standards.

"Fake vaccines may even have a wider-reaching impact if new outbreaks emerge in communities assumed to be vaccinated."

The statement came after the UK became the first country to approve the use of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Europol urged heightened vigilance by the EU's 27 member nations and other countries to "the possible involvement of criminals in the vaccine development and distribution process".

It said it was aware of criminals placing advertisements on dark web marketplaces "using the brands of genuine pharmaceutical companies that are already in the final stages of testing".

The police agency said criminal networks could also target the supply chain for genuine vaccines, for example by illegally refilling empty vials if they are not correctly disposed of or by hijacking vehicles that are transporting the shots.

It urged EU members to share with Europol "any relevant information on criminal activities related to Covid-19 or flu vaccines".