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Fake vaccine watch - Government on alert for influx of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines to the island

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2021 | 8:58 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica is on high alert for bogus COVID-19 vaccines
Jamaica is on high alert for bogus COVID-19 vaccines

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the Government is being proactive against the threat of fake coronavirus vaccines hitting the Jamaican market, as the demand for protection against the dreaded disease increases locally.

Tufton said this has been a consideration for his ministry, prior to last week’s warning from Dr Joy St John, executive director of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), urging regional nations to pay strict attention to the distribution of vaccines to their populations.

Citing bogus vaccines as her biggest concern, Dr St John told reporters of the Barbados Today that, while the sale of fake vaccination may be lucrative to sellers, it could have serious health implications on patients.

Last week, Tufton was of a similar mind.

“I think that, with the concern and even panic around the COVID-19 virus, persons will be tempted to access and try vaccines or medications claiming to offer antidotes or a solution to this public health threat. The same is the case for testing,” he outlined in a response to Sunday Gleaner queries last week.

“Already we see and hear about various ‘miracle drugs’ or test kits offering similar solutions. I have no doubt that vaccine manipulation will happen until there are enough credible supplies,” he added, underscoring the vigilance required of health authorities in the identification and selection of drugs.

No Indication of Fake Vaccines

So far, Tufton said the Ministry of Health has no indication of any fake vaccines or COVID-19 drugs being distributed within the island, but stressed that the focus is on official channels of procurement and distribution with international partners.

“Any other offer or sales would be investigated for authenticity, as any drug requires approval from our standards agency. They will monitor,” assured the health minister, brushing aside criticisms of the Government being slow in its handling of critical issues regarding the testing and tracking of coronavirus patients.

“Conservative is usually the safer approach when it comes to drug research and discovery – trials have to be done to ensure safety. This requires time, resources and collaboration. Usually, it can’t be rushed, as lives depend on it,” he stressed.

Last week, Dr St John called for clarity from member states regarding who they plan to vaccinate as a means of stymying the rise of the underground market.

“I do not want bogus vaccines within the Caribbean. Already we know that there have been attempts to circulate bogus vaccines. So I do not want anyone getting their hands on something that purports to be [approved] that is not,” she said.

“It is big money for who sold you, but it is an investment loss and lives affected … because they did not get to vet the vaccines. I would not want that happening in the Caribbean.”

The latest black market issue follows announcements by the Government that Jamaica is to receive more than 900,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine for the first phase of the roll-out set for April.

The Pan American Health Organization cautioned last week, however, that it could not commit to the timeline and amounts for the 190 countries under the COVAX facility, leaving private-sector lobby groups to announce a partnership with the Government last Wednesday to acquire vaccines.