Last year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: "The Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to reimagine human mobility." Unfortunately, in every crisis, there are profiteers who see a different sort of opportunity and mobilise themselves towards a goal that is far from the altruistic one Mr Guterres could have had in mind.
The world's largest police organisation knows all too well the threat that these anti-social elements present. Now the International Criminal Police Organisation, or Interpol, has warned its 194 member countries – including in the Gulf and Middle East – to be on the lookout for exactly these possible scams.
Posing as vaccine manufacturers, scammers have targeted hospitals and health ministries in 40 countries, as The National reported, offering vaccines against Covid-19 that turn out to be non-existent. A worrying aspect is the extent to which these scammers adopt sophisticated means, using fake websites and taking the trouble to create social media handles that convince health workers and officials, who are targeted through email, whether personal or professional, and sometimes by phone. In December 2020, two websites were seized that were posing to be biotechnology companies supposedly in the process of developing treatments. That these are not one-off cases is another matter of concern.
It says something about the state of the world that even during a pandemic, swindlers impersonating drug makers do not think twice about the chance to make money through dishonest means, no matter the human cost. But something can be done to limit the harm these rackets can cause. Wealthier nations can take a crucial first step and raise more money to fund more vaccine doses. This week, Interpol chief, Jurgen Stock spoke of the value of public-private sector co-operation to highlight potential frauds and identify those responsible.
Earlier this year, after criminal networks were disrupted in South Africa and China, Interpol had warned that with criminal groups peddling fake vaccines, the general public was at risk of buying a vaccine that not only does not protect against Covid-19, but poses a health hazard. There is no telling what ill effects such untested, unregulated concoctions can have.
As part of G7 and G20 groups and the Covax initiative, countries can deflate the agenda of scammers by delivering many more vaccines to the most afflicted countries.
Even without the element of vaccine fraud, vaccination efforts in many underdeveloped parts of the world can do with a push. It goes to reason that if vaccination numbers in a country are high, it would secure the country from being preyed on by scams of this nature.