28 de febrero de 2021
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Organized crime in Mexico selling fake Covid-19 vaccines

By Cristina Sanchez Reyes

 Photo provided on Jan. 24, 2021, by the Mexico's National Private Security Council president, Raul Sapien Santos, showing him participating in an official event in Mexico City. EFE-EPA/Raul Sapien Santos/Editorial Use Only/No Sales

Photo provided on Jan. 24, 2021, by the Mexico's National Private Security Council president, Raul Sapien Santos, showing him participating in an official event in Mexico City. EFE-EPA/Raul Sapien Santos/Editorial Use Only/No Sales

By Cristina Sanchez Reyes

Mexico City, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- Organized crime has been raking in cash in Mexico with fake vaccination campaigns and selling illegal vaccines that put the health of the public at risk and demonstrate those criminal groups' ability to organize fraudulent business operations.

"They did it with the flu vaccine, with the Covid tests and now with the Pfizer vaccine, which puts the health of the public at serious risk," Raul Sapien Santos, president of Mexico's National Private Security Council (CNSP), told EFE.

The fraud - detected mainly in Mexico City, Tijuana and the states of Mexico and Quintana Roo - consists of selling fake anti-Covid vaccines via the social networks and illegal Web pages.

On Jan. 6, Pfizer warned on its official Twitter account that its vaccine - produced in cooperation with Germany's BioNTech - is not for sale via any private channels at present.

The firm confirmed that certain Web sites and telephone numbers not belonging to Pfizer have been detected where "third parties" are offering to sell the vaccine, but the big pharmaceutical manufacturer said that this information is false.

The Federal Health Secretariat so far has not responded to questions about the fraudulent vaccine sales.

Sapien Santos emphasized that, unfortunately, the illegal purchase of medications and supplies is not something new in Mexico.

"More than eight million people in the country consume stolen medications, which results in losses of some 1 billion pesos ($50.3 million) annually," he said.

He went on to say that, although this phenomenon had been seen long before the coronavirus pandemic, with the resurgence of the virus people have gotten more desperate to know whether they have been infected and to find a treatment or a cure.

"More than 400 fake Web pages have been detected offering the vaccine, or offering everything from facemasks (and) rapid testing to oxygen ... (and) many of the Web sites are fake," he said.

He also said that the marketing of all these vaccines and fake testing kits could further obscure and reduce the true statistics of the coronavirus pandemic being presented by the Health Secretariat.

Sapien Santos said that the situation has gotten to the point where one shouldn't analyze how the vaccine can be faked but rather how criminal groups can react so quickly to market the bogus med.

"So, it's important to know the measures that must be taken by the federal government and the Federal Commission for the Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris) to break up the criminal (groups)," he said.

Security expert Juan Carlos Montero said that it isn't strange that organized crime is breaking into this area since "any product that can create a black market can also create a criminal organization."

He added that it's probable that over time the number of groups illegally offering the vaccines will increase and the crimes associated with the pandemic will also rise.

Sapien Santos called on the public to be alert and not fall for this kind of scam but, above all, not to put their health at risk.

"Mexicans are not only at risk of dying from Covid-19 but also dying because of fake vaccines that don't provide a real solution for fighting the virus," he said.

Experts say that the risk that people may acquire fake vaccines is high.

"What (the criminals) can offer (the public) is water and some kind of other substance that can cause adverse effects and interact with - and possibly interfere with - essential medications," said Dr. Rodrigo Romero, the academic coordinator of the Mexican Vaccinology Association.

Along those lines, allergist and immunologist David Mendoza emphasized that even if the real Covid-19 vaccine is being sold by the criminals, people should keep in mind that it requires specific logistical preparation and thus marketing it illegally could cause changes in the efficacy and safety of the med.

"What can happen is that using the vaccine may not have the necessary effectiveness or, if it's stored improperly and bacteria (grows within it), it can cause effects on health," he said, warning that sometimes those effects can be fatal.

Both health experts noted that so far the anti-Covid vaccine is only available from the Mexican government, asking the public to pay attention to the Cofepris alerts and, if they have any doubts, to consult with institutions such as the Mexican Vaccinology Association.

Finally, Sapien Santos said that going after these types of crimes should be the government's responsibility but the public should remain alert for such scams.

"It's a problem that should be seen comprehensively and to do that it's also necessary for people to have a readiness to report violations," he said.

Mexico so far has registered more than 1.5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 136,917 deaths from the disease and is among the first nations to launch a vaccination campaign against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, although at present only some of the country's health care personnel have been immunized.

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