Chinese police have arrested more than 80 suspected members of a criminal gang manufacturing and selling fake Covid-19 vaccines, including exporting to other countries, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.
Police in Beijing and in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces broke up the group that was producing the fake vaccines, which consisted of a simple saline solution,
The “vaccines” were sold in China and to other countries, although it was unclear which countries were the recipients.
“China has already reported the situation to the relevant countries,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.
“The Chinese government highly values vaccine safety and will continue to take efforts to strictly prosecute any counterfeits,” Wang said. “China will also strengthen our law enforcement cooperation with the relevant countries.”
China has a long history of vaccine scandals. In 2016, police arrested the leaders of a ring that sold millions of improperly stored vaccines across the country.
In response to recent scandals, China reformed vaccine safety regulations and increased criminal penalties for those caught making counterfeits, reports the Associated Press.
In the past, many Chinese citizens did not trust homegrown vaccines, but since the pandemic struck, confidence has been higher.
In a recent survey published by Chinese business magazine Caixin, 74% of respondents said they would take a Covid-19 vaccine if it was available.
China has at least seven Covid-19 vaccines in the last stages of clinical trials, and has one made by state-owned Sinopharm, that has been approved for domestic use.
Chinese vaccine makers have seized the opportunity provided by the pandemic to go global, with Sinopharm and other Chinese companies selling or donating their vaccines to at least 27 countries around the world including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.
Domestically, China has administered more than 24 million doses of its homegrown vaccine candidates, as part of a mass vaccination campaign.
China has so far refrained from giving the vaccine to the most elderly, instead targeting key groups such as health professionals and workers in food-related industries, as well as adults up to the age of 59.