The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has issued a global alert to law enforcement agencies in its 194-member countries to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
An Interpol orange notice outlines potential criminal activity in relation to the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of Covid-19 and flu vaccines, with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and criminal behaviour.
It also includes examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.
Zimbabwe has been a member of Interpol since 1980 and has been conducting joint operations with other member states to curb cross-border crimes.
As a number of Covid-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential.
The need for coordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies will also play a vital role to ensure the safety of individuals and well-being of communities are protected.
In a statement, Interpol secretary-general Dr Jürgen Stock said: “As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains.
“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.
“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.”
He said as international travel gradually resumed it was likely that testing for the virus would become of greater importance, resulting in a parallel production and distribution of unauthorised and falsified testing kits.
With an increasing amount of Covid-related frauds, Interpol was also advising members of the public to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicines.
In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that of 3 000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1 700 contained cyber threats.
“To avoid falling victim to online scams, it is important to be vigilant, be sceptical and to be safe as offers which appear too good to be true usually are not. Always check with your national health authorities or the World Health Organisation for the latest health advice in relation to Covid-19,” Interpol said.