KEY POINTS

  • At least 2,500 people fell victim to the COVID-19 vaccine scam
  • The residents grew suspicious after their shots were not registered in the government's online tracking system
  • Authorities seized more than $20,000 from the vaccine scam organizers

Thousands of people in India became victims of a COVID-19 scam after being given shots of salt water instead of the coronavirus vaccine. 

An estimated 2,500 were given saline water across 12 fake vaccination sites as part of the wide-ranging scam. Vishal Thakur, a senior official of the Mumbai police department, said the organizers charged the victims between $10 to $17 per salt water shot. 

Authorities said the victims came to the camp after being told they would receive shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. However, they became suspicious after their shots were not registered in the Indian government’s online tracking vaccinations, the New York Times reported. 

The residents also grew suspicious after the workers administering the fake shots told them they worked for certain hospitals that did not match the ones written on the vaccine certifications they received. 

Authorities confiscated more than $20,000 from the suspects who had been operating over the past two months.

The Mumbai police arrested 14 people involved with the scam, including doctors and medical workers who produced the fake vials and vaccine certificates. The perpetrators are facing charges of cheating, attempts at culpable homicide and criminal conspiracy, among others, CNN noted. 

The COVID-19 vaccine scam in Mumbai comes nearly two months after the Delhi Police arrested three people for painting fire extinguishers and selling them as oxygen cylinders to coronavirus patients during the country’s devastating second wave of infections. 

Ravi Sharma, 40, Mohammed Abdul, 38, and Shambhu Shah, 30, admitted that they sold the fake canisters for Rs 5,500 or $180 each, according to the Times of India.

The oxygen cylinder scam was later discovered after a non-government organization volunteer complained to police that a company named Varsha Engineering had been overcharging the oxygen cylinders. The police later sent out a raid team where they discovered the three suspects painting some cylinders in black. 

“During inquiry, it was found that distributor Ravi Sharma was removing red paint of fire cylinders which were used for filling of CO2 and was converting them into oxygen cylinders by painting them black with the help of Abdul and Shah,” R Sathiyasundaram, deputy commissioner of police, told the publication. 

Some three billion Covid vaccine doses have now been administered worldwide Some three billion Covid vaccine doses have now been administered worldwide Photo: AFP / NOAH SEELAM