In the absence of an adequate COVID-19 vaccination plan, criminal networks in Venezuela have seized upon ongoing mismanagement to steal and resell doses or sell fake vaccines on the black market.
Authorities detained an employee of the health department in western Lara state on June 26 for allegedly filling vials with boiling water, painkillers and antibiotics only to later market them as COVID-19 vaccines. A total of four individuals are accused of scamming nearly 2,000 people, who paid between $50 and $150 per dose, El Pitazo reported.
This is not the first time officials have uncovered such a scheme. In April, authorities dismantled a gang selling vaccines via WhatsApp for $280. The doses were stolen from a health center in Caracas and had expired after not complying with the so-called “cold chain,” or the system of “precisely coordinated events in temperature-controlled environments to store, manage and transport” vaccines.
Since March 2020, when the first two cases of COVID-19 were detected in Venezuela, citizen concerns have only grown amid a lack of official information. This pattern continued in early 2021 with the arrival of the first vaccines.
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The slow pace of vaccinations in the country has helped to create a demand which criminals are rushing to fill, either by reselling stolen doses or selling fake ones for as much as $600.
Venezuela is currently in the second phase of its vaccine rollout, increasing the number of vaccination sites around the country. In late June, it also began using the Cuban-made Abdala vaccine. By mid-June, 11 percent of the country had received the first dose but were now facing a long delay before the second dose.
After black market vaccines were first reported in April, the Venezuelan Academy of Medicine called for an investigation into the black market vaccines. It also called on the government to publish detailed statistics about priority groups and the number of vaccine doses available as well as an up-to-date calendar, stating this would help reduce black market demand.
Counterfeit vaccines have been detected across the region, including in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
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