Chinese authorities recently announced a crackdown on criminal rings involved in making fake COVID-19 vaccines, and revealed that some of the products were distributed to other countries.
Arrested suspects were accused of gaining illicit profits totaling around 18 million yuan (about $2.78 million).
As of Feb. 10, 21 vaccine-related cases were being investigated across the country, with 70 suspects arrested, according to a Feb. 15 report by Chinese state media Xinhua.
In the early stages of China’s vaccine rollout, the report said, suspects made huge profits through manufacturing fake vaccines, selling and reselling them at high prices, and inoculating groups without authorization.
Some of the Chinese-made fake vaccines were reportedly transported from Tianjin to Shenzhen, and then smuggled to other countries via Hong Kong. Xinhua did not specify which countries.
The criminal rings allegedly bought prefilled syringes or packaged saline solution or mineral water (when saline solution was out of stock) into fake vaccines. They then illegally set up emergency inoculation centers.
Suspects claimed that theirs were “genuine COVID-19 shots obtained through internal channels.”
They placed advertisements on social media to solicit customers. They also forged employee certificates, overseas job certificates, air tickets, and other supporting documents to appear like legitimate vaccine distributors.
In one case, suspects arranged for more than 200 people to receive about 500 doses of fake shots, making a profit of 547,000 yuan (about $84,695) as of December 2020.
Others profited from a scheme to arrange for citizens to get inoculated through emergency vaccination programs at hospitals. At the time, the Chinese regime only allowed high-risk populations to take the vaccine. The suspects charged money for people to have access to real vaccine shots.
Vaccine-related scandals are common in China.
Lu Jun, co-founder of the nonprofit Beijing Yirenping Center, told Radio Free Asia that in China, officially-approved organizations are often involved in illegal activity.
“Either licensed manufacturers produced sub-standard vaccines, or governmental anti-epidemic agencies committed irregularities or even illegal operations in the process of vaccine procurement, distribution, and transportation,” Lu said.
He cited a scandal that erupted in 2010, after a pharmaceutical company in Shanxi Province was found to have produced sub-standard vaccines, leading to local deaths. According to an investigation by state media China Economic Times, the company colluded with the Shanxi government to distribute the vaccines across the province.