Fraudsters are trying to cash in on mistakes made by the EU’s coronavirus vaccination campaign by offering millions of scam jabs to member states.
The bloc’s anti-fraud agency OLAF said around 900 million vaccines have been pitched to several countries for €12.7bn (£11bn).
These offers were said to be made by “alleged intermediaries,” prompting OLAF to investigate.
Pharmaceutical companies involved in making vaccines against COVID-19 say they sell to governments direct only.
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The 27-nation bloc has struggled to get its vaccination programme off the ground, taking longer to initially approve the jabs and running into procurement issues further down the line.
On Thursday, leaders will discuss via videoconference further action on the bloc’s strategy, as well as how best to protect their 450 million citizens from new COVID variants.
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Other items on the agenda will be stabilising vaccine deliveries, boosting production and making sure the jabs are up-to-date for tackling any new strains.
Two officials from the European Commission said they were concerned to hear of “ghost” vaccines being put up for sale.
“There is a really large quantity,” said one, adding: “Nobody has any idea what is actually in these vials…The best case is it’s just not working, in the worst case it’s a very serious issue.”
Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said: “It is unclear whether these are genuine vaccine doses or if we are just talking about salt water in small vials.”
The first also noted that the majority of the shots being offered were said to be the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, before comparing the situation to the start of the pandemic when fraudsters had also tried to cash-in on PPE shortages.
News of “ghost” vaccines on the market has not been particularly helpful for a continent home to several countries with well-known hesitancies in relation to vaccines.
In France, for instance, a December study from the Jean Jaures Foundation found that just two out of five people trusted French health authorities for information on the jabs, with less than half that number trusting the government.
A YouGov study in November found just 45% of Swedes wanted to get vaccinated, while this was slightly higher at 51% in Germany.
This has since risen to 65% in Sweden and 61% in Germany as of 12 February. The same survey found 48% would be willing to receive the jab in France.
Source : Sky News