By Ciara Nugent
Ecuadoran police have shut down an alternative medicines center in Quito that had administered thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccines, the government said Tuesday.
The center was giving out shots of an unknown substance for $15 each and telling people they would “become immune to COVID-19 after three doses,” city security chief César Díaz said in a statement. Authorities interviewed witnesses and people who had visited the center, Díaz added, and believe it had given up to 70,000 doses of the shot.
In interviews with local media during the police operation, the center’s owner claimed that it was not giving out vaccines, but “vitamins and serums” to boost patients immunity, and other treatments to cure the disease. “I have treated around 20,000 coronavirus patients here,” she told Ecuadoran newspaper El Comercio.
Ecuador became one of Latin America’s early pandemic hotspots in spring 2020 but has since contained the virus better than neighboring countries. To date, it has reported 14,668 deaths from COVID-19 and 242,146 cases of the virus.
Ecuador has authorized the use of two vaccines against COVID-19 – those produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford–AstraZeneca – and the health ministry has pledged to vaccinate all adults for free by the end of the year. But mass vaccination is not expected to begin before March, as the country awaits supplies.
As the global COVID-19 vaccine roll-out has begun in recent weeks, vaccine-related scams have been reported in several countries. In the U.S., the FBI warned of several emerging vaccine-related scam threats in late December including offers to purchase priority access to the vaccine or phone calls soliciting personal information to arrange a vaccine appointment.
In the U.K., the National Health Service said in January that Brits are receiving fraudulent emails and text messages purporting to be from the NHS that demand people’s banking information before a shot can be given.