As a growing number of COVID-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, Secretary-General of Interpol Juergen Stock warned on Monday that the rollout of the coronavirus shots amid the ongoing pandemic will be accompanied by a sharp surge in related crimes.
"With vaccines rolling out, crime will increase dramatically… We will see thefts and warehouse break-ins and attacks on vaccine shipments," Stock was cited as telling German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche.
Cases of graft related to the COVID-19 vaccines were also predicted as spiking by the chief of the France-based global policing agency.
"Corruption will be rampant in many places to get the valuable vaccine quicker," he said.
To deal with the potential onslaught of criminal activity, federal police will be deployed in Germany to secure transportation of the vaccines, which will also be stored in at undisclosed locations.
Besides the potential dangers of thieving and hijacking, there are fears of possible sabotage by anti-vaxxers.
‘Orange Notice’ Alert
Early in December, the Interpol Orange Notice alert outlined the potential criminal activity anticipated amidst the health crisis.
"As governments are preparing to roll out #vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains." @INTERPOL_SG #FightTheFakes@INTERPOL_HQ's global alert on the imminent threat of #fake #COVID19 vaccines ↘️ https://t.co/pKUxOzYr9N— Fight the Fakes Alliance (@FightTheFakes) December 3, 2020
The warning mentioned “falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines”. The agency cited examples of crimes where perpetrators were apprehended advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines.
Ensuring both, the safety of the supply chain and ‘identifying illicit websites’ pushing fake products was underscored as of vital importance. As vaccines were singled out as the prime target of organised crime, there was a call for concerted efforts by law enforcement and health regulatory bodies.
“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Jurgen Stock on 3 December.
“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,” said the Interpol Secretary General in a statement.
Interpol also advised members of the public to stay alert when searching for medicines online.
The potential online dangers were spelled out as an analysis by Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that among some 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of advertising the sale of illicit medicines some 1,700 contained cyber threats such as phishing and spamming malware.
The updated warning comes as a vaccine produced by German company BioNTech and US giant Pfizer has already been approved for use by 16 countries, including the US and the UK, and is expected to be approved by the European Union in the coming days.
The EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) is posed to make a similar decision Monday, with the first jabs to begin in the bloc on 27 December.
Other approvals are imminent with Germany having placed preliminary orders with five different companies already. This announcement followed a meeting between Health Minister Jens Spahn and health officials from Germany's 16 states.