Four men are under investigation for violating German medical laws after dozens of people were injected with an illegal homemade COVID vaccine in the northern German city of Lübeck, police said.
Police said they arrived at the underground vaccination drive, being held at Lübeck airport on Saturday afternoon, following a tipoff. Once there, they found 150 people waiting to be vaccinated in the airport’s check-in hall, and about 80 others gathered in front of the terminal.
Authorities believe that about 50 people had already been vaccinated before they shut down the unauthorised immunisation drive, gathering vaccine samples and a list of patients who had been injected with the bootleg vaccine as evidence.
In a joint statement on Monday, Lübeck police and public prosecutors said that four men, aged 81, 80, 74 and 61, were being investigated on suspicion of violating Section 96 of the Medicines Act, which relates to the manufacture and use of unapproved drugs.
While police would not reveal the identities of the men under investigation to VICE World News, German media reported that the man who developed the vaccine was Winfried Stöcker, a Lübeck-based doctor and entrepreneur who has publicly claimed to have developed his own COVID vaccine, and who owns the city’s airport.
Stöcker, who is reported to be 74, is the founder of laboratory diagnostics company Euroimmun, which he reportedly sold for more than €1 billion (about £850 million) four years ago.
He has since made headlines for claiming to have developed his own COVID vaccine, administering it to himself and employees at his laboratory, without approval by the Paul Ehrlich Institute, the German drug regulator.
That triggered an investigation into Stöcker for a suspected breach of the Medicines Act, before the doctor pledged to authorities not to continue using the vaccine without official approval.
However, he published the formula for the unauthorised vaccine online, making it available for others to use. He claims that his vaccine is 97% effective, and has since been administered to 20,000 people across Germany.
Stöcker did not respond to VICE World News requests for comment through his laboratory, but has insisted he has done nothing wrong in terms of Saturday’s vaccine drive. He told BILD that the physicians who had administered the unauthorised jabs had "the right to mix up a substance that they believe will help people,” claiming that 107 people had been vaccinated during Saturday’s immunisation drive.
Meanwhile, his defence lawyer, Wolfgang Kubicki, told regional daily newspaper the Lübecker Nachrichten that Stöcker himself had not personally vaccinated anybody at the airport, and insisted he had done nothing wrong.
Stöcker has previously made headlines for xenophobic statements and his large donations to Germany’s far-right AfD party. As well as owning Lubeck’s airport and his own airline, he bought a historic department store in the eastern city of Gorlitz that was a setting in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel; in 2014, he cancelled a benefit concert for refugees that was to be held at the store, telling the press that "so many foreign refugees are not welcome to me.”
Nicholas Potter, a researcher at German anti-racist group Amadeu Antonio Foundation told VICE World News that Stöcker appeared to be pitching his homemade vaccine as a “populist serum” which was more palatable to vaccine-skeptics than the mRNA technology used by Pfizer.
“He seems to appeal to at least some sections of the vax-sceptic… movement, who distrust state institutions and the new mRNA technology,” he said. “He’s somehow been able to present his vaccine as a populist serum for at least some otherwise sceptical anti-vaxxers.”
Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with just 68.4 percent of the population fully vaccinated, and is currently being hit by the fourth wave of the virus.