Authorities, both local and global, are now raising the alarm on another looming problem in the fight against COVID-19 — fake vaccines.
In the Philippines, the counterfeit vaccine market is borne by the fact that supply is practically nil and demand is high. In addition, there is also a growing sense of frustration at the government’s pace of procurement.
Early today, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) came out with a warning against “locally manufactured fake vaccines.”
“BOC warns the public to be careful when availing of vaccines as fake vaccines may have severe health consequences to users as the composition of such vaccines are not tested and even worst fake vaccines may not be effective thus further exposing users to the dangers of COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement.
The BOC noted an earlier advisory by the Interpol stating that syndicates are now engaged in manufacturing fake vaccines due to the growing value in the product.
Interpol issued this global alert to its 194 member countries last December, “warning them to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.”
The BOC added that in coordination with local law enforcement agencies, they have apprehended “makeshift clinics that are suspected to be used to treat COVID-19 patients and may be utilized as an avenue of distribution for local fake vaccines.”
These clinics, which have been raided by the police, particularly cater to the local Chinese community.
Last Jan. 19, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued an “urgent reminder” about the illegal COVID-19 vaccine.
“Injecting vaccines of unknown origin without permission has serious safety risks. It is even more illegal to sell vaccines that have not been approved by the health department,” the Chinese Embassy said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Feb. 3 also called on authorities to be more vigilant in preventing the entry of smuggled fake vaccines. Hontiveros issued the statement after news came out that Chinese authorities confiscated 3,000 doses of fake vaccines intended to be shipped abroad.
“Our own authorities need to bust any plan to bring those fake vaccines onto our shores. Anyone willing to put other people in danger for quick profit should be apprehended and put behind bars,” she said.
The illicit trade has also caught the attention of some local leaders. Last Feb. 15, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto warned the public through his Twitter account about sellers of fake vaccines.
“Beware!! Wag bumili sa mga ganito! Picture pa lang kita nang mali ang handling. Maglolokohan lang kayo niyan,” Sotto said in the post which also bore a photo of a counterfeit vaccine being peddled online. “Dapat dumaan sa nasyonal na pamahalaan ang pagbili ng kahit anong bakuna. For our safety.”
Beware!! Wag bumili sa mga ganito! Picture pa lang kita nang mali ang handling. Maglolokohan lang kayo niyan.— Vico Sotto (@VicoSotto) February 15, 2021
Dapat dumaan sa nasyonal na pamahalaan ang pagbili ng kahit anong bakuna. For our safety.
Health care frontliners din po ang mauunang bakunahan. pic.twitter.com/fX3xj6wA9X
During the Feb. 9 Laging Handa briefing, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Eric Domingo warned the public against buying any COVID-19 vaccine, as no commercial product has been given any marketing authorization for now.
Without any commercial authorization, the only shots that the public can have would be through the government’s vaccination drive.
“Ang babala po natin sa mga kababayan natin ay huwag po kayo bibili ng bakuna o magpapabakuna sa labas po ng vaccination program of the government,” said Domingo.