As India ramps up vaccination efforts amid fears of a new wave of coronavirus, authorities investigate allegations that thousands of people may have received fake vaccine injections in the financial capital Mumbai .
Police have arrested 14 people suspected of being involved in a program of giving injections of salt water instead of doses of vaccine at nearly a dozen private vaccination sites in Mumbai over the past two months. Organizers, including medical professionals, reportedly charged between $ 10 and $ 17 per dose, according to authorities, who said they confiscated more than $ 20,000 from suspects.
“Those arrested are charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery,” said Vishal Thakur, a Mumbai police officer.
More than 2,600 people have come to the camps to receive injections of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured and marketed in India under the name Covishield. Some said they became suspicious when their snaps did not appear on the Indian government’s online immunization tracking portal, and when the hospitals that the organizers claimed to be affiliated with did not match the names on the vaccination certificates. that they had received.
“There are doubts as to whether we actually received Covishield or whether it was just glucose vaccines or expired / waste vaccines,” wrote Neha Alshi, who said she was a victim of the scam, on Twitter.
Siddharth Chandrashekhar, a lawyer who filed a public interest complaint in the high court in Mumbai, called the scenario “heartbreaking.” The court said it was “really shocking that incidents of false vaccination are on the increase”.
Medical scams are nothing new in India, where during the country’s gigantic epidemic this spring, profiteers targeted vulnerable Covid patients with fake drugs and oxygen. West Bengal state police are also investigating whether hundreds of people, including a local lawmaker, have received fake vaccines there.
India has administered more than 340 million doses of the vaccine, but less than 5% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The country is reporting nearly 50,000 new cases per day and nearly 1,000 deaths from Covid, numbers far lower than two months ago, although experts have always believed India’s official tally was vastly underestimated.
On Saturday, pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech reported that its injection of Covaxin – the other vaccine widely used in India – was 77.8% effective in preventing symptomatic illness, according to the results of an advanced stage trial. These results have been published online but have not been peer reviewed.
The report states that the vaccine prevented severe Covid in 93.4% of cases and was also effective against the Delta variant, preventing infection in 65.2% of cases.
There have been lingering doubts about the vaccine, which was approved by the Indian government in January and given to millions of people before it was publicly proven to be safe or effective.