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COVID CRIME…

More evidence emerges of criminals trying to cash in on public fears over the virus and the demand for vaccines, adding to the pressure on supply chains…

In November, as the world anxiously and eagerly awaited deliveries of the first Covid vaccines, TAPA stated that pharmaceutical supply chains faced their ‘biggest security challenge for a generation.’ Whilst vaccines are now being safely administered to patients, Organised Crime Groups trying to cash-in on the fear of coronavirus continue to be targeted by law enforcement agencies around the world.

This month, INTERPOL, which has previously issued its own warning that vaccines would be a prime target for criminal networks, confirmed that South African authorities have seized around 2,400 doses of fake Covid-19 vaccine as well as medical grade facemasks at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng province. It also reported the arrests of three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national at the facility. Meanwhile, in China, police also successfully identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines after arresting some 80 suspects and seizing more than 3,000 fake vaccines at several manufacturing premises.

“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. “INTERPOL continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”

Whilst TAPA has every confidence in the resilience of pharma supply chains, which are among the most secure of any industry, these incidents reflect the 24/7/365 pressure they are under. Were any fake vaccines to enter the supply chain, it could, potentially, also disrupt the roll-out of legitimate vaccines, at least in the short-term.

As INTERPOL stated last year in the lead-up to vaccine approvals: “Trafficking of pharmaceutical products takes place on a large scale and is highly lucrative for the Organised Crime Groups involved. The expectation of the development of a viable Covid-19 vaccine has generated global attention. While testing is ongoing, several EU Member States have announced that a vaccine will be available soon. Organised crime has reacted swiftly to adapt its methods and product offerings to the Covid-19 pandemic. The expected arrival of a genuine COVID-19 vaccine has already inspired criminal activities and will likely be exacerbated once vaccines become available.”

The detection of a fake influenza vaccine in Mexico in October 2020, INTERPOL said “confirms that criminals seize opportunities as soon as they present themselves.”

TAPA’s Incident Information Service (IIS) data confirms how quickly criminals react to market demand for specific products, and how this is heightened by supply shortages. Over the past year, the Association has received numerous reports of thieves targeting Covid-connected shipments such as facemasks and hand sanitisers, with losses of Personal Protective Equipment valued at millions of dollars.

This month, police officers in the UK swooped on thieves who had stolen boxes of NHS-branded lateral flow coronavirus tests from a truck parked at Harlow Business park in Essex in the early hours of the morning. They were able to recover the tests, which were destined for secondary schools, before they found their way onto the black market.

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