WHO identifies counterfeit Covid vaccines in India being administered as ‘Covishield’

The WHO has issued an alert for counterfeit versions of Covid vaccines that are in circulation in India

Anuj Pant
Wednesday 18 August 2021 16:00
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<p>People wait to receive a dose of Covishield, a vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, at a cinema hall in India’s Mumbai city on 17 August 2021</p>

People wait to receive a dose of Covishield, a vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, at a cinema hall in India’s Mumbai city on 17 August 2021

Counterfeit versions of Covid vaccines in India and Uganda have been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the world health body said in a medical product alert issued on Monday.

The counterfeit versions were being passed off as Covishield, the primary vaccine used across India, said the alert.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) that manufactures Covishield – the version of the AstraZeneca jab for India –confirmed the doses were fake.

The WHO warned the fake doses posed a “serious risk to global public health” and called for their removal from circulation.

The alert said the falsified products were reported to the health body between July and August this year.

It urged countries, healthcare centres, wholesalers and pharmacies to intensify “increased vigilance within the supply chains of countries and regions likely to be affected by these falsified products”.

“All medical products must be obtained from authorised/licensed suppliers. The products’ authenticity and physical condition should be carefully checked,” it said.

India is no stranger to vaccine scams during the coronavirus pandemic. There have been many incidents where fake jabs have been administered to individuals, and in some cases, to housing societies that carry out vaccine drives, usually in exchange for large sums of money.

The first reported fake vaccine scam unearthed in the country affected close to 2,000 people in Maharashtra state in June this year. Many of the victims were believed to have been administered simple saline solutions.

About 14 people, including registered doctors, were arrested once the scam was unearthed when none of them received government vaccine certificates.

In another prominent example of a vaccine scam in the country and in the same state, a Bollywood film producer claimed to have been a victim.

Ramesh Taurani, who heads Tips Industries, a music label and film production company in state capital Mumbai, had organised a vaccination camp for 365 employees of his film production company in May and July.

None of those employees received vaccination certificates, prompting Mr Taurani to file a police complaint.

The WHO’s medical alert pointed out that falsified vaccines result in severe impacts to global public health and place additional burdens on vulnerable populations.

“It is important to detect and remove these falsified products from circulation to prevent harm to patients,” the alert said.

There has been no official response by India’s federal health ministry on the alert. Some media reports, however, have said the ministry was investigating the matter.

“Although we have a strong system to prevent such cases, with this development, the only thing we want to ensure is that no Indian received a fake vaccine,” a senior health ministry official was quoted as saying by the Mint newspaper.

“We are investigating the matter,” the official added.

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