China arrests man it says was fake COVID-19 jab ringleader

Police in China say they have taken a man into custody who they think is the architect of a scam that saw vials filled with saline solution or mineral water passed off as genuine COVID-19 vaccines.

The man – identified only as Kong – is reported to have made a profit of 18m yuan (around $2.78m) from the sale of almost 60,000 counterfeit vaccines, some of which were shipped to Hong Kong and then overseas, according to the national Xinhua news agency.

The final destination of that shipment of around 600 vials is unknown but they were reportedly acquired via “internal channels” of genuine manufacturers. By December last year, more than 200 people had been injected with 500 doses of the fake vaccine, according to the report, which cites court documents.

Kong was one of dozens of people arrested in connection with 21 separate incidents of suspected vaccine counterfeiting, and the Chinese authorities have pledged to come down hard on anyone convicted of this type of fraud.

Last year, the government said that anyone convicted of producing or distributing falsified or substandard medicines or vaccines amid the coronavirus outbreak could face severe penalties including the death penalty under new legislation.

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Last June, the chairman of Chinese pharmacy chain Beijing Jinghai Kangbaixin Medicine Co – Li Dong – was sentenced to 15 years in prison for selling counterfeit 3M face masks

Initial reports suggested criminals started supplying the falsified shots shortly after the Chinese government approved emergency use of three vaccines – two from state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm and one from biotech CanSino Biologics – in August 2020.

There’s no word on how any people may have received the fraudulent injections, which could put them at risk of serious side effects such as infections if the vials were not produced in a sterile environment.

In January, Interpol issued an Orange Notice to police forces in its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 as well as flu vaccines this winter and beyond.

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