WHO warns against believing pandemic is over due to vaccine availability

Europol says organised crime gangs may look to produce counterfeit vaccines

The World Health Organisation's Dr Michael Ryan says vaccines will not mean zero Covid-19, but they will be an additional "powerful tool" for controlling the virus. Video: WHO


Recent progress on Covid-19 vaccines is positive but the World Health Organization is concerned this has led to a growing perception that the pandemic has come to an end, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

“Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, WHO is concerned that there is a growing perception that the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” he said.

Dr Tedros said the pandemic still had a long way to run and that decisions made by citizens and governments would determine its course in the short run and when the pandemic would ultimately end.

“We know it’s been a hard year and people are tired, but in hospitals that are running at or over capacity it’s the hardest it can possibly be,” he said.

“The truth is that at present, many places are witnessing very high transmission of the Covid-19 virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers.”

Britain approved Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin mass inoculations; Bahrain followed on Friday as the second country to approve Pfizer’s vaccine.

Europol warning

Europol issued a warning on Friday against the risk of organised crime scams linked to Covid-19 vaccines, including the potential that criminals will try to sell dangerous counterfeit vaccines.

The EU’s law enforcement agency said in an “early warning notification” that gangs had already reacted to opportunities presented by the pandemic.

“Once a legitimate vaccine enters the market, counterfeited versions of the specific vaccine brand are expected to circulate rapidly,” Europol said.

“Counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines may represent a significant public health threat if they are ineffective at best or toxic at worst, given their production in underground labs without hygiene standards.

“Fake vaccines may even have a wider-reaching impact if new outbreaks emerge in communities assumed to be vaccinated.”

The warning urged heightened vigilance by the EU’s 27 member nations and other countries to “the possible involvement of criminals in the vaccine development and distribution process”.

Europol said it was aware of criminals placing advertisements on dark web marketplaces “using the brands of genuine pharmaceutical companies that are already in the final stages of testing”.

The police agency said criminal networks could also target the supply chain for genuine vaccines, such as by illegally refilling empty vials if they are not correctly disposed of or by hijacking vehicles that are transporting the shots.

It urged EU members to share with Europol “any relevant information on criminal activities related to Covid-19 or flu vaccines”. – Reuters, AP