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New alliance formed to fight fake Covid vaccines and medicines

Credit: AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool

The approval of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine candidate last week in the United Kingdom is stoking fears that the global rollout of vaccines to fight the pandemic could also stimulate a counter-pandemic of fake online cures as well as criminal attempts to sabotage or interrupt vaccine supply chains.

To counter the growing threat, a new industry-backed alliance to fight fake Covid-19 medicines and vaccines was launched on Monday. Building on the informal Fight the Fakes advocacy campaign and week (7-13 December), the new Fight the Fakes Alliance aims to muster more government, civil society and private sector awareness and support about the risks posed by the attempts of organised crime, individual profiteers and hackers to interfere with the Covid-19 vaccine and medicines supply chain, as well as profit from fake products.

The Alliance was formed just a few days after Interpol, the international criminal police organisation, issued a sharp warning to law enforcement agencies in its 194 member states that criminal networks were laying plans to target Covid-19 vaccine supply chains, physically and online, disrupting distribution of legitimate products and sowing confusion.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General, in a statement released last Wednesday (2 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.”

The Alliance is composed of 15 groups involved in various aspects of the medical supply chain and representing health care professionals, manufacturers, wholesalers, researchers and patients. Its members include the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO), and International Council of Nurses (ICN).

“In the current environment of misinformation - the so-called 'infodemic' by the World Health Organization (WHO) - it is particularly important to prevent the manufacture and trade of falsified Covid-19 vaccines as they have the potential to undermine trust in modern medicine, health care professional and health care systems as a whole,” the Alliance's new vice chair and director of partnerships & programs at the World Heart Federation, Andrea Vassalotti told Health Policy Watch.

“With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in falsified medicines now and in the future, our combined efforts to mitigate, control and ultimately eradicate the damage they cause to patient health and lives are more crucial than ever,” said Adam Aspinall, chair of the new Fight the Fakes Alliance and senior director of access and product management at Medicines for Malaria Venture, in a press release.

“The threat of fake medicines knows no borders,” said Miriam Holm, co-head of the Secretariat for Fight the Fakes, in a podcast Monday hosted by King's College London lecturer, Bahijja Raimi-Abraham. “I think it's only a matter of a few weeks until we have fake Covid-19 vaccines circulating.”

“We have joined forces with the Fight the Fakes Campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of fake medicines,” said the International Council of Nurses (ICN), one member of the new alliance, in a statement. “ICN supports international initiatives to combat counterfeiting and urges nurses and national nurses associations to collaborate with pharmacists, physicians and others to disseminate accurate information on detection and elimination of counterfeit medicines.”

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