BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Several European Union countries have reported offers from “alleged intermediaries” for 900 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for some 12.7 billion euros, the bloc’s anti-fraud agency OLAF said on Thursday.
OLAF opened an inquiry earlier this month into scam vaccine offers, underlining how fraudsters have sought to capitalise on a botched EU inoculation campaign against COVID-19 that is hampering the bloc’s economic recovery.
“OLAF received information from several EU member states about offers of COVID-19 vaccines by alleged intermediaries,” the agency’s press office said in a statement sent to Reuters.
“To date, all these different offers together represent over 900 million vaccine doses for a total asking price of roughly 12.7 billion euros ($15.53 billion).”
Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines against the coronavirus say they only sell directly to governments.
OLAF warned last week about fraudsters seeking to sell vaccines in the 27-nation EU.
EU leaders will discuss by videoconference on Thursday how to protect their 450 million citizens from new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus, ensure stable vaccine deliveries, ramp up production and update jabs to counter new strains.
Two officials with the bloc’s executive European Commission expressed concern about “ghost” vaccines now on the market.
“There is a really large quantity,” one said. “Nobody has any idea what is actually in these vials...The best case is it’s just not working, in the worst case it’s a very serious issue.”
The official, noting that most of the shots offered to EU governments by traders were purportedly the AstraZeneca vaccine, compared the situation to the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 when criminals exploited a shortage of masks and other protective equipment.
A second official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Commission was worried about “ghost” vaccines.
“It is unclear whether these are genuine vaccine doses or if we are just talking about salt water in small vials,” the official told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, John Chalmers, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Mark Heinrich
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