Chinese police arrest 80 in fake COVID-19 vaccine bust

Police in China have taken more than 80 people into custody in connection with a scam involving falsified COVID-19 vaccine vials containing just saline solution.

The network had been operating since last September, two months after China first started mass vaccinations using shots given emergency approvals, starting with medical staff and other front-line workers.  

China gave full approval to one vaccine from state-owned enterprise Sinopharm in December, and has several others in late-stage development including a second Sinopharm shot along with a third from biotech company CanSino Biologics.

It’s not clear yet whether the gang were copying one of the front runner vaccines being used in the country, or just peddling a mock-up of a generic product. The English language Global Times reports that they were planning to distribute the counterfeits abroad as well as in China.

According to the state-owned Xinhua news agency, gang members were found with more than 3,000 fake vaccine vials during an operation that involved raids on locations in the capital Beijing and multiple cities in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong.

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.

The Global Times report says that each box of vaccines should carry a unique code that must be scanned and verified during the vaccination process, although it says this may not ben happening during the emergency immunisation phase.

Last month, 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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