People administering vaccines in England are being warned about the risk of a black market for COVID vaccine materials, VICE World News has learned.
Advice sent to clinical supervisors of a local COVID immunisation program in the north east of England through an internal messaging system warns immunisers to be vigilant about how they dispose of the vaccines.
“Disposing of vials: There is a black market for these items – packaging and vials,” the note, seen by VICE World News, says.
“Guidance from Specialist Pharmacy Services encourages the safe disposal,” it continues. “Any packaging/boxes needs to be torn up. Any empty vials need to be defaced with a marker pen before being disposed of in a sharps box.”
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The NHS Specialist Pharmacy Services in an impartial medicines advice organisation. Official guidance in a document available on its website details how vaccine paraphernalia should be disposed of in order to reduce “the risk of theft.”
Little has been reported around a potential black market for vaccines in the UK, which could be attributable to the speedy rollout of the vaccination programme. Currently, 18,691,835 people in the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine.
But the World Health Organisation said that “no country or WHO region is unaffected by the issue of substandard and falsified medical products.”
“What was once considered a problem limited to developing and low-income countries is now an issue that also affects developed countries,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“Improper disposal of used vaccine vials may create an opportunity for them to be repurposed and refilled with falsified versions.”
“WHO is aware of some versions of falsified COVID-19 vaccines, however, the incidents reported to date do not provide any cause for alarm and appropriate regulatory action has been taken (at the national level),” the statement continued. “Patients in Europe should not be excessively alarmed by the risk of falsified COVID-19 vaccines, as long as, they are obtained from the regulated (legal) supply chain.”
Northumbria Police said that it had no reports of vaccine fraud or black market-related incidents, but Paul Catchick, head of investigations and counter-fraud at GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, told VICE World News that fake vaccines are a “real concern.”
“GAVI is acutely aware that COVID-19 vaccines are in high demand and their inherent value presents a greater security risk compared to most vaccines used in routine immunisations,” he said.”
“We are alert to the need for the proper disposal of used, damaged or expired vaccine products, and we have previously financed the installation of incineration facilities in some countries. However, we recognise that vaccine disposal remains a risk and in addition to working with health ministries, we collaborate with the WHO’s Substandard and Falsified medical products team.”
A spokesperson from NHS England said: “Guidance to vaccinators includes to ensure the label of the COVID-19 vaccine vial is defaced or destroyed before disposal.”