With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out, L.A. City Attorney warns: ‘Don’t pay for the promise of access to the vaccine’

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Materials handlers make a quick check of a box of vials of the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 before putting it in a freezer on Dec. 15, 2020, shortly after it arrived at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Materials handlers make a quick check of a box of vials of the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 before putting it in a freezer on Dec. 15, 2020, shortly after it arrived at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

With the United States in its early stages of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has a warning for residents: “Don’t pay for the promise of access to the vaccine.”

Supplies are scarce, with mass vaccination still months away and scams already cropping up in Europe.

Currently, California is prioritizing high-risk health care workers and those in skilled nursing facilities with the limited number of doses. Officials anticipate about 3 million Californians will be vaccinated at this stage.

California’s teachers, first responders, and grocery and restaurant workers are among those expected to get the next round of vaccines — a stage in which the state aims to vaccinate about 8 million residents.

And in a state of about 40 million residents, that means the majority of people won’t have access to the vaccine for months to come.

The City Attorney warns that this will bring scams.

“While the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine is terrific news, it won’t be available on a widespread basis until late spring or early summer,” Feuer said in a video statement. “In the meantime, there will be a wait—and that is surely an opportunity for scammers to try to sell you fake vaccines that are ineffective at best—and dangerous at worst.”

Throughout the pandemic, there have been reports of scams involving fake coronavirus testing kits, contact tracers and so-called cures and treatments.

In one case in May, the L.A. City Attorney sued a company for allegedly selling radish paste as COVID-19 prevention. In another case, a man was arrested on suspicion of falsely claiming to have developed a coronavirus prevention pill and an injectable cure for those infected.

Interpol has issued an alert to law enforcement agencies to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, saying the pandemic has “already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour.”

One worry is that there will be fake COVID-19 vaccines being peddled to unsuspecting residents.

“Fake vaccines which haven’t undergone testing or clinical trials could make you sick,” Feuer warned.

European Union police agency Europol on Dec. 4 said it has already found advertisements for fake COVID-19 vaccines on the dark web. The agency shared an image of a listing for fake Pfizer vaccine doses being sold in exchange for bitcoin.

“The number of offers is limited at this stage but will likely increase once a legitimate vaccine becomes available,” Europol officials said at the time.

Feuer told residents to report any scams to the FTC or contact the L.A. City Attorney’s Office online.

“If you get a call or a text or an email, or even someone knocking on your door, claiming they can give you early access to the vaccine or that they know someone who can. That’s a scam,” Feuer said.

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