NEW DELHI: Police in Mumbai said on Thursday that people should be on alert after thousands of people in major cities have fallen prey to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine scams.
Scam vaccination drives have emerged in recent weeks as the demand for vaccines surged after a devastating second wave of the pandemic claimed more than 400,000 lives from April to early June.
More than 4,000 people have received fake COVID-19 jabs at over a dozen private vaccination camps in Mumbai and its metropolitan area since May, according to the police. In Kolkata, some 2,000 people — including a parliamentarian — were given fake vaccinations in June alone.
“We have asked people to be alert,” Anchalwar Shailesh Kumar, a senior police officer at Mumbai’s Khar police station, told Arab News. “We are investigating the case and at this stage we cannot tell many details.”
Umesh Shah from Mumbai’s Hiranandani Housing Society was one of some 300 people in the locality who received the fake jabs in late May.
“After the second wave our anxiety to protect ourselves from COVID-19 was very high and people took advantage of our vulnerabilities,” he said.
The residents thought the vaccination camp was official as it was organized by what appeared to be a private hospital.
“There was no reason for us to distrust when a private hospital approached us for vaccination, but the suspicion arose when our certificate did not come for days,” another society resident, Hitesh Patel, told Arab News.
“When the certificate came it was from a different hospital and of a different date than May 30 when we took the jab,” he said, adding: “We then realized that we were duped and approached the police.”
He said they had been given saline water instead of the vaccine.
A media uproar following the Hiranandani incident has prompted others to come forward, with similar cases starting to pour in from different parts of the country.
In Kolkata, a fake vaccination drive came into the spotlight after local parliamentarian Mimi Chakraborty took part in it. Failing to receive official confirmation of her vaccination on the government’s CoWin portal, she told local media she became suspicious and filed a police complaint.
While Kolkata police are also investigating the case, health experts blame the emergence of fraudulent schemes on the government’s new policy of allowing the private sector to take part in the national vaccination drive.
When India started its vaccination campaign in February, the government was the sole agency inoculating people, with jabs free to receive.
From May, however, private players have been allowed to commercially administer 25 percent of the vaccines the country has procured or produced.
India is currently relying on two “made in India” jabs — Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and the local Covaxin, produced by Bharat Biotech — as well as the imported Russian Sputnik V, which it approved for emergency use in April.
As the government campaign has been sluggish, with less than 5 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people inoculated so far, many have opted for paid vaccinations.
“The government policy of dual pricing is a problem knowing well that there is no regulation to check the private players,” Mumbai-based public health expert and Indian Journal of Medical Ethics editor Dr. Amar Jesani told Arab News.
“In the US, whether it is the private or public sector giving vaccines everywhere it is free. But in India, the government is concerned about the market,” he said.
“After the experience of the second wave, the government should have tried to build public health systems and infrastructure, but it has not learnt the lesson.”