Interpol issued a global warning Wednesday alerting its members that organized crime networks could try to sell counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines or attempt to steal real shots as the world ramps up efforts to distribute an immunization.
The global police coordination agency sent out an orange alert to police in 194 countries urging them to prepare for the threat, saying the pandemic has already “triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour.”
“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives," Stock added. "It is essential that law enforcement is as prepared as possible for what will be an onslaught of all types of criminal activity linked to the COVID-19 vaccine, which is why INTERPOL has issued this global warning.”
The organization urged cooperation between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies on approval and distribution of vaccines to make sure that the shots put into the supply chain originate from legitimate health officials and are authentic.
Beyond targeting vaccines, organized criminals are also expected to try to distribute “unauthorized and falsified testing kits.” Interpol also warned of cyber threats, saying an investigation by its cybercrime unit of roughly 3,000 pharmaceutical websites believed to be selling illegal products found over 1,700 contained phishing or spamming malware.
The warning comes as countries around the world lay the groundwork for vaccine distribution after a handful of studies show a number of strong candidates. The U.K. became the first nation in the world to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use after data showed it to be 95 percent effective.