Increased Vaccine Demand Extends to the Black MarketBy Rodrigo Brugada | Wed, 05/19/2021 - 19:23
Amid a global crisis brought on by the lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines, Mexico has seen its population resort to many different measures to get access to vaccination. While most of the population is still waiting patiently for their turn, some are trying to skip ahead of the line. This situation is causing a spike in medical tourism, previously covered by MBN, while others turn to the black market.
While Mexico has not had the slowest rollout, with around 12 percent of its population having received at least one dose, wide gaps still exist when compared to other countries. According to Our World in Data, Mexico is currently in 32nd place out of the 37 countries in the OECD. Mexico is still behind the average dose rollout of both North and South America. This lag in vaccine rollout and the enormous impact the pandemic has had in the country has alarmed certain groups in the population that are now seeking to get a shot, even if it costs upwards of $US1,000, as was the case in Nuevo Leon.
As reported by Slate, since the first sightings of this black market in January, Mexico’s health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, has issued six alerts against the illegal sale of counterfeit AstraZeneca, Cansino, Moderna, Sinovac, Sinopharm and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Two of these vaccines, Sinopharm and Moderna’s, aren’t even available in Mexico. This is particularly alarming because these counterfeits may be kept in reused or forged vials, or they may be legitimate vaccines that have been diverted from the supply chain without necessarily being held in the cold chain, as stated by Healthcare IT News.
As is the case with any other black market in Mexico, high levels of impunity and the increased demand have allowed for this phenomenon to occur. As an example, earlier this year Pfizer released a statement reporting phishing and fake phone lines that sought to sell BioNTech vaccines. Later, counterfeit vaccines were found in Mexico and Poland, as reported by the BBC. This black market in Mexico is probably linked to an international one, as exemplified by the attempt to smuggle almost six thousand fake doses from Campeche to Honduras, as reported by Animal Politico. In this last case, none of the suspects was detained.
The existence of a black market underscores that vaccination efforts are not enough to meet the population’s demands. This creates a dire situation, wherein more public health crises arise without controlling the first one, the pandemic. Fake vaccines pose a threat not only because of the possibility of having an unverified substance introduced to an individual but also because of the false sense of protection and the economic hardships brought on by the cost. As stated by WHO in an alert: “Falsified COVID-19 vaccines pose a serious risk to global public health and place an additional burden on vulnerable populations and health systems. It is important to identify and remove these from circulation.”