Cape Town - Interpol has issued a global alert to law enforcement agencies in its member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
Interpol secretary-general Jürgen Stock said as governments were preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations were reportedly planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains.
Stock warned that criminal networks would also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and offering false cures, which could pose a significant risk to people's health, even their lives.
“It is essential that law enforcement agencies are 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,” Stock said.
He said co-ordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies would play a vital role in ensuring the safety of individuals and well-being of communities.
The head of the NGO African Alliance and founding member of the Vaccine Advocacy Council, Tian Johnson, said with over 1 200 truck hijackings in South Africa in 2020 alone – a steady increase since 2012 – it was imperative that Covid-19 vaccine shipments were secured from ports of entry to health-care facilities.
Johnson said the government needed to urgently capacitate law enforcement structures, that are already severely strained, to meet the need for security around the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which was of critical national importance. He said widespread corruption and mismanagement within the public health sector would manifest themselves in the context of Covid-19 vaccines as they had done in a range of public health-care issues.
Western Cape health department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the procurement of vaccines was done via the national Department of Health. “As you know, there is no vaccine in South Africa yet so I am unable to comment on your questions,” he said.
National Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize would brief the public on Covid-19 vaccines this week.
DA provincial health spokesperson Wendy Philander said following replies to parliamentary questions around the timeline for and guidelines on the distribution of a prospective Covid-19 vaccine, they would pose questions around what safety measures the department would implement to prevent opportunistic criminal behaviour regarding the availability of vaccines.
ANC provincial health spokesperson Rachel Windvogel said President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his address to the nation, stated that the Solidarity Fund would initially make R327 million available towards the procurement of a Covid-19 vaccine on behalf of the country.
Windvogel said the president also announced that South Africa was participating in the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility, which aimed to pool resources and share vaccine development risk and ensure equitable access to vaccines.
“The national government should make use of these platforms to address all the emerging risks around (a) vaccine,” she said.