The Interpol global police co-ordination agency warned on Wednesday that organised criminal networks could be targeting vaccines that protect the inoculated against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). These criminals could look to sell fake shots, Interpol cautioned.
Interpol, which is headquartered in France, said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
“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,” said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.
Meanwhile, the UK became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, with its regulator clearing Pfizer and BioNTech’s shot ahead of decisions in the US and European Union.
The emergency authorisation clears the way for the deployment of a vaccine that Pfizer and its German partner have said is 95% effective in preventing illness. The shot will be available in Britain from next week, according to a government statement Wednesday.
“We can see the way out and we can see that by the spring we are going to be through this,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sky News.
The European Union’s drug watchdog and lawmakers warned against hasty approvals of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday, after Britain granted emergency authorisation to the experimental Covid-19 shot being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is in charge of approving Covid-19 vaccines for the EU, said its longer procedure to approve vaccines was more appropriate as it was based on more evidence and required more checks than the emergency procedure chosen by Britain.
Asked about the British approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the agency said: “EMA considers that the conditional marketing authorisation is the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency.” EMA had said on Tuesday that, under that procedure, it would decide by 29 December whether to authorise Pfizer’s vaccine.
EU lawmakers were critical of Britain’s decision.
“I consider this decision to be problematic and recommend that EU Member States do not repeat the process in the same way,” said Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.
“A few weeks of thorough examination by the European Medicines Agency is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorisation of a vaccine,” said Liese, who represents the centre right grouping, the largest in the EU assembly.
Under EU rules, the Pfizer vaccine must be authorised by EMA, but EU countries can use an emergency procedure that allows them to distribute in their domestic market a vaccine for temporary use.
Britain is still subject to EU rules until it fully leaves the bloc at the end of the year.