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Interpol Warns Of Criminal Activities Related To Coronavirus Vaccines

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, as governments around the world prepare to roll out vaccines, Interpol - the International Police Organization based in France - is warning that organized crime groups will try to cash in. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In a written statement, Jurgen Stock, the secretary general of Interpol, told the organization's member nations to prepare for organized crime networks to target vaccines, both physically and online. He said ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake vaccines will be essential - so will tight coordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies. Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country is preparing for the biggest program of mass vaccination in its history.

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PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We purchased more than 350 million doses of seven different vaccine candidates, and the U.K. was the first country in the world to preorder supplies of this Pfizer vaccine, securing 40 million doses.

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PRIME MINISTER JEAN CASTEX: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Across the English Channel, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday that a million people would receive the free vaccine in January. Alain Bauer, the Paris-based editor in chief of the International Journal of Criminology, says criminal gangs are rubbing their hands together over the opportunity presented by the vaccine.

ALAIN BAUER: As they are always ready for anything new and anything that will help them make money.

BEARDSLEY: And they're everywhere, says Bauer.

BAUER: Chinese triads, American mafia, Italian mafia - Indians, Russian mobs.

BEARDSLEY: Criminal gangs have been exploiting the pandemic from the beginning, targeting testing kits, masks and other PPE.

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POPE FRANCIS: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Last spring, with the virus raging in Italy, Pope Francis denounced those who he said take advantage of the needs of others and sell them out. Interpol said the pandemic has triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior. Bauer says criminal gangs will try to steal the vaccine to sell it or to reproduce it, and they'll try to sell fake formulas as the real vaccine. He says you fight them the same way you fight criminals trafficking in cigarettes, drugs or counterfeit goods.

BAUER: You need to protect the formula first. Then you need to protect the production of the products from being stolen or from being reproduced. And third, you need to control the delivery and logistics.

BEARDSLEY: To make sure everything arrives where it's supposed to.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LIMINANAS SONG, "(I'VE GOT) TROUBLE IN MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.