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Don’t be fooled by counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines


The end of the pandemic is in sight. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the FDA and the first phase of distribution to states has begun. In addition, the Moderna vaccine is on the verge of FDA approval. 

Even though the vaccine will eventually be available to all Americans free of charge, we are months away from that prospect and the demand will greatly outpace the initial supply. Pfizer and eventually Moderna will distribute 100 million doses each in the U.S. The distribution of these 200 million doses will be divided among the states based on populations.

Only healthcare workers will receive the vaccine through their employers and public health agencies in phase one. Additional distribution phases will release the vaccine to elder care workers, residents of skilled nursing and long-term care centers and first responders before the vaccine is made available to the general public. There is no way to buy early access to the vaccine. Any claim that offers an opportunity to purchase the vaccine is a scam.

By now, we know that unscrupulous scammers are always waiting for their next opportunity and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. Already bad actors have been counterfeiting pharmaceutical company logos for many years and will likely quickly move into producing a look-alike vaccine for sale through already established illicit supply chains.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid falling for a counterfeit vaccine:

• Fake vaccines may appear early and look genuine. 

• Because vaccine production will continue to increase, enough genuine vaccines should be available to all Americans for free by this summer. 

• Scammers understand this and will try to exploit the next six months of limited availability by offering bogus opportunities to buy the vaccine early.

• Purchasing a vaccine from an unauthorized distributor is extremely dangerous. 

• Counterfeit drugs are frequently manufactured in unsanitary conditions and are usually contaminated.

• For drugs that have long been on the market, such as Viagra, the chemical structure of the drugs is widely known and can be duplicated, so counterfeiters are able to put some of the active drug in the counterfeit product. 

• However, the COVID-19 vaccine is cutting edge technology. Counterfeiters will not under any circumstances be able to create a real vaccine. 

• If you buy a vaccine from any source, you are at a heightened risk of getting a counterfeit product.

• Even if the product is in an official looking vial, it is not real.

Outside of the U.S., there are two other vaccines in use. Sputnik V in Russia, and SinoVac in China and Brazil. Both vaccines were released in their countries, but are not approved in the U.S. The United Kingdom is currently using the Pfizer vaccine but has a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford in final stages of approval. None of these vaccines have been approved for use in the United States. Scammers may attempt to sell these foreign vaccines to desperate individuals. Counterfeiters may also attempt to repackage foreign vaccines in Pfizer or Moderna packaging.

The light at the end of the tunnel is real, but patience and following sound practices including wearing a mask, observing social distancing and frequent handwashing are still needed until the vaccine is widely available.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

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