The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) has alerted Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and 190 other countries of threat from organised criminal groups during the upcoming COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, including fake vaccines and the theft of supplies.
The alert came as the UK yesterday became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use.
The need for a vaccine has become more urgent globally and nationally with Nigeria recording over 67,000 COVID-19 infections and over 1,000 associated fatalities, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has so far identified 49 "candidate vaccines" at the stage of clinical trials in humans.
Hopes are high that shots could be ready for use before the end of the year as two frontrunner vaccines - by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer - already reported that phase 3 trials for their mRNA vaccine showed 95 per cent efficacy in preventing Covid-19 symptoms and did not produce adverse side effects among thousands of volunteers.
Interpol, however, observed that there is a rise in the activities of criminals who have started advertising and selling fake COVID-19 vaccines, especially online.
Interpol Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, therefore, stressed the need for coordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies to ensure the safety of individuals and wellbeing of communities are protected.
In a statement on Wednesday titled, 'Interpol warns of organised crime threat to COVID-19 vaccines', Stock stated, "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."
According to him, 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies are suspected of selling fake medicines and medical devices.
He advised residents of Interpol 194 member countries to take special care when going online to search for medical equipment or medicine.
Meanwhile the UK has become the first western country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use.
The vaccine has been authorised for emergency use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), before decisions by the US and Europe.
The MHRA was given power to approve the vaccine by the government under special regulations before 1 January, when it will become fully responsible for medicines authorisation in the UK after Brexit.
MHRA Chief Executive, June Raine, at a news conference yesterday said: "Everybody can be confident that no corners whatsoever have been cut.
"The public deserve nothing less," she said, stressing her agency's certification process was no different to counterparts in the United States and the European Union.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the "fantastic" news, while urging the public to remain cautious on the day that England exited a four-week lockdown and re-imposed regional curbs.
"It's the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again," he said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said that starting with care home residents and health and care staff, Britain's state-run National Health Service will begin with 800,000 doses "early next
That will be ramped up to "millions" of inoculations by the end of the year.
"Help is on its way," he told BBC radio.
The breakthrough will encourage hopes the world can finally get back on course in 2021 after a year of traumatic losses, both human and economic.
The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 1.5 million people since the outbreak emerged in China 12 months ago. At least 63 million cases have been registered.
Pfizer Chief Executive, Albert Bourla, said the UK certification was a "historic moment in the fight against Covid-19".
"This authorisation is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK," he said.