Pfizer cites fake-19 fake shots abroad as criminals exploit vaccine demand

Vials seized by authorities were tested in separate investigations by the company and confirmed to contain a mock vaccine. The recovered vials in Mexico were also fraudulently labeled, while a substance inside vials in Poland is likely to be anti-wrinkle treatment, Pfizer said.

About 80 people at a clinic in Mexico received a fake vaccine going for about $ 1,000 a dose, although they do not appear to have suffered physical harm. The vials, found in beer coolers on a beach, had much different numbers than those sent to the state, and an incorrect expiration date, Dr. Manuel de la O, health secretary of the province of Nuevo León.

Polish authorities said no one there received the fake vaccine, which was seized in a man’s apartment.

The findings are the latest in an effort between law enforcement and drug makers like Pfizer, Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson to prevent criminal activity related to the Covid-19 vaccines. The worldwide introduction of shots has given criminals a new opportunity to exploit people unknowingly.

“Everyone on the planet needs it. “Many are longing for him,” said Lev Kubiak, Pfizer’s head of world security. We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the meantime, there is perfection. opportunity for criminals. “

The United States, Mexico and other countries have seized and deleted dozens of websites claiming to sell shots or links to vaccine makers like Moderna and Pfizer, according to government officials and records. The fake, company-like websites appeared to seek users’ personal information for use in identity fraud schemes, government and industry officials said.

Police in China and South Africa seized thousands of doses of Covid-19 fake vaccines in warehouses and manufacturing plants, arresting dozens of people, according to the international police agency Interpol. Mexico is also investigating the transportation of about 6,000 doses of alleged Sputnik vaccine from Russia, seized from a private plane to Honduras. Authorities have not determined whether the vaccines are valid.

For months, agents from the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, an investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have been investigating Covid-19 pandemic-related fraud globally, recovering $ 48 million phony masks, personal protective equipment and others. products. Last fall, researchers shifted their focus to include Covid-19 vaccines that were nearly cleared by regulators, starting with online scams. They have removed 30 websites and seized 74 web domains, according to IPR officials.

So far, no fake vaccines have been found in the US, according to the DHS. But a limited supply of Covid-19 shots and their high demand can steer people to seek vaccinations outside official channels, especially in countries like Mexico and Brazil, where Covid-19 outbreaks are high and there is a history of counterfeiting prescription drugs , an industry that security experts say.

“Whenever you see this mismatch between demand and supply in some areas, there are people who are willing to fill that distinction with falsehood,” said Tony Pelli, a consultant with BSI Group who focuses on drug safety. “For new drugs, this is usually. it’s only a matter of time before you see people trying to fake them. “

The counterfeiting of prescription drugs has grown more profitable in the past decade, industry and security officials say. The counterfeit prescription drug market is priced at more than $ 200 billion annually, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Distributing Covid-19 fake vaccines is also easier than stealing and selling legitimate shots because of extreme security measures taken by countries and drug makers during the pandemic, Mr Pelli said. “With mockery, you can just display, say, ‘Here are Covid vaccines, we have some, don’t ask how,’ and start distributing them,” said Mr Pelli.

Major drug makers like Pfizer employ security teams made up of former law enforcement officers who help train government agencies and help with counter investigations involving counterfeit prescription drugs. In recent years, Pfizer worked with law enforcement to find vendors of counterfeit doses of Viagra erectile dysfunction treatment and anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

One tactic used by IPR Center agents is to search the clear and dark web with keywords related to vaccines provided by their manufacturers.

“We have never seen so much fraud and misinformation and schemes,” said Steve Francis, director of the IPR Center, which has opened more than 35 cases involving Covid-19 vaccine scams.

Agents and Francis Pfizer began meeting weekly last fall to prepare for scams and hoaxes. During one presentation, company officials said they did not release images of valid vial labels in part as a way to stay ahead of criminals.

Pfizer also works with local law enforcement on counterfeit vaccine cases such as those recently uncovered in Mexico and Poland.

Polish police seized several vials filled with fluid and labeled as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from a man’s apartment, according to Pfizer and Polish authorities. No one is believed to have received a fake shot, according to Polish prosecutors who led the investigation. Polish police arrested the man, who is accused of fraud, Polish authorities said.

Pfizer suspected the vaccines were fake because they were not in the vials the company is using for its Covid-19 shot, Mr Kubiak said. They were identical to police recovered containers in the man’s apartment that had a label for another company’s antiaircraft treatment.

Pfizer tested the liquid in the vials allegedly a Covid-19 vaccine at his lab in Groton, Conn., Finding it lacked key ingredients and instead contained hyaluronic acid, which is used in skin products.

In early February, Mexican police raided a clinic in the northern state of Nuevo León, where people were allegedly given fake vaccines. Mexican police detained six people.

“People were sprayed with distilled water,” said Dr. de la O in a telephone interview, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office, which is conducting the investigation, declined to comment.

Pfizer, who is working with DHS officials to support Mexican authorities on the case, confirmed that the vaccine was fake after using special light and microscopic analysis to find that the sticky label on the vase was not valid. Mr Kubiak declined to provide additional details but said Pfizer could conduct more tests on the fluid.

Mr Kubiak said he expects counterfeiting to get worse as the submission process is introduced. “At the moment, consumers are easily deceived,” he said. “They crave the vaccine.”

This story was published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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