The first doses of coronavirus vaccine were only administered to patients in the United Kingdom on 8 December but already Interpol, the international police organization, has issued a global alert to all of its 194-member countries to warn of cyber threats to vaccine supply chains.

It has warned governments and citizens to prepare for organized crime networks targeting vaccines both physically and online.

There has already been an uptick in global cybercrime due to the increased time consumers are spending online due to national lockdowns and work-from-home directives around the world to reduce the spread of the virus. Intelligence shared by Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit showed that more than half of the 3,000 pharmacy websites suspected of selling illicit medication contained cyber threats, especially malware and phishing. IBM has also uncovered global phishing campaigns spoofing as a qualified cold chain service provider to try to trick their intended targets into making purchases and sharing their personal data.

Besides the rise of online crimes related to Covid, the police organization also raised its concerns over the security and safety of vaccine supply chains. Pharma supply chains may become a prime target as criminals attempt to intercept shipments and steal in-demand Covid-related products, especially vaccine and virus testing kits. “Ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential,” Interpol stated.

It reinforced TAPA EMEA’s statement made last month that it is critical for pharma supply chains to secure storage, transportation and delivery of cargo shipments to not only safeguard against theft, but to also avoid contamination of these highly-sensitive, temperature-controlled cargoes. Supply chains are required to store doses of the vaccine at extremely low temperatures (-70°) to protect their effectiveness. If criminal attacks do occur, this strictly regulated environment may be disrupted and vaccines contaminated, even if the offenders fail to remove any of the product. This could result in the need to destroy ‘spoilt’ vaccines, not only slowing the distribution process to patients but also adding significant additional logistics costs and, no doubt, penalties served by regulatory bodies.

Lina Li, Chairperson of TAPA Asia Pacific, said: “TAPA Security Standards cover the security aspects for warehousing, trucking and parking to safeguard cargo as it moves along the entire supply chain. Pharma members and their LSPs which have yet to adopt TAPA Standards should now be looking to upgrade their security levels by implementing additional security programs to protect their cargo deliveries, including stricter checking procedures, increased surveillance and tracking, and staff training.”

Interpol highlighted the need for coordination between law enforcement agencies and health regulatory bodies to protect the safety of individuals and the wellbeing of communities. TAPA is working continuously with law enforcement agencies to share cargo crime data through its Incident Information Service (IIS). Any members with security incident intelligence relating to the vaccine distribution are encouraged to share this information with TAPA’s IIS to provide timely crime alerts to all members during this crucial period.