Don’t fall for scammers peddling fake COVID-19 vaccines

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District Attorney Summer Stephan

The end of the pandemic is in sight. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the FDA and the first phase of distribu­tion to states has begun. In ad­dition, the Moderna vaccine is on the verge of FDA approval. Even though the vaccine will eventually be available to all Americans free of charge, we are months away from that prospect and the demand will greatly outpace the initial sup­ply. Pfizer and eventually Mod­erna will distribute 100 million doses each in the U.S. The dis­tribution of these 200 million doses will be divided among the states based on populations.

Only healthcare workers will receive the vaccine through their employers and public health agencies in phase one. Additional distribution phases will release the vaccine to el­der care workers, residents of skilled nursing and long-term care centers and first respond­ers before the vaccine is made available to the general public. There is no way to buy early ac­cess to the vaccine. Any claim that offers an opportunity to purchase the vaccine is a scam.

By now, we know that unscru­pulous scammers are always waiting for their next opportu­nity and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. Already bad ac­tors have been counterfeiting pharmaceutical company logos for many years and will likely quickly move into producing a look-alike vaccine for sale through already established il­licit supply chains.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid falling for a counterfeit vaccine:

  • Fake vaccines may appear early and look genuine.
  • Because vaccine produc­tion will continue to increase, enough genuine vaccines should be available to all Amer­icans for free by this summer.
  • Scammers understand this and will try to exploit the next six months of limited availabil­ity by offering bogus opportu­nities to buy the vaccine early.
  • Purchasing a vaccine from an unauthorized distributor is extremely dangerous.
  • Counterfeit drugs are fre­quently manufactured in un­sanitary conditions and are usually contaminated.
  • For drugs that have long been on the market, such as Vi­agra, the chemical structure of the drugs is widely known and can be duplicated, so counter­feiters are able to put some of the active drug in the counter­feit product.
  • However, the COVID-19 vac­cine is cutting edge technology. Counterfeiters will not under any circumstances be able to create a real vaccine.
  • If you buy a vaccine from any source, you are at a height­ened risk of getting a counter­feit product.
  • Even if the product is in an official looking vial, it is not real.

Outside of the U.S., there are two other vaccines in use. Sputnik V in Russia, and Sino­Vac in China and Brazil. Both vaccines were released in their countries, but are not approved in the U.S. The United King­dom is currently using the Pfizer vaccine but has a vac­cine developed by AstraZene­ca/Oxford in final stages of ap­proval. None of these vaccines have been approved for use in the United States. Scammers may attempt to sell these for­eign vaccines to desperate in­dividuals. Counterfeiters may also attempt to repackage for­eign vaccines in Pfizer or Mod­erna packaging.

The light at the end of the tunnel is real, but patience and following sound practices including wearing a mask, ob­serving social distancing and frequent handwashing are still needed until the vaccine is widely available.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibil­ity between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these con­sumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

Don’t fall for scammers peddling fake COVID-19 vaccines

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