Mexican police arrest six for fake COVID-19 vaccine trafficking

Police in northern Mexico have taken six people into custody on suspicion of trafficking in counterfeit coronavirus vaccines.

The arrests come shortly after the Mexican authorities warned that organised criminal networks have set up laboratories to manufacture falsified vaccines for COVID-19, and also planned to steal legitimate stocks in the supply chain.

Local press reports suggest that the latest arrests were made in the state of Nuevo León, and involved individuals suspected of trafficking in counterfeits of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine.

The shots were being offered for sale at a facility – called ‘Spine Clinic by Imperio’ – in the city of Monterrey at around $2,000 per dose, according to an Associated Press report citing Mexico’s Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is only available in Mexico via government supply programmes, according to government sources, which means any private organization offering shots is not authorised to do so.

So far, the country’s healthcare services have administered 1m doses, having become the first Latin American country to start an immunisation programme in December, although there are reports that the central system for booking shots has been impacted by repeated crashes and stability issues.

By the end of April, the government aims to have inoculated everyone over 60, or 12 per cent of its population of about 128 million.

Since the start of the pandemic, Mexico has recorded more than 177,000 deaths from COVID-19. It has said it plans to file a complaint at the United Nations about “unfair” distribution of vaccine supplies, saying the roll-out process favours more affluent countries.

Unequal access to vaccines around the world is a key driver for the illicit trade in counterfeit or stolen supplies, and one which is likely to affect poor countries disproportionately.

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