COVID-19 scam: Thousands injected with saltwater instead of vaccine

So far, 14 people have been arrested in connection with the scheme, which saw as many as 2,500 people injected with saline solution instead of the COVID-19 vaccine.

New Delhi: Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, there have been multiple cases of fraud and scams in different areas, be it medicines, test reports, or even essentials like oxygen cylinders. Now, since the vaccination has begun in the country many cases of scam have been coming out.

In one such major incident, thousands of people have fallen prey to an elaborate wide-ranging scam selling fake coronavirus vaccines at various places in India, with doctors and medical workers among those arrested for their involvement, authorities say.

So far, 14 people have been arrested in connection with the scheme, which saw as many as 2,500 people injected with saline solution instead of the COVID-19 vaccine at around 12 vaccination sites in Mumbai and Bengal over the past two months.

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Among those arrested are medical professionals, including Doctor Shivraj Pataria and his wife Neeta Pataria — the owners of the Shivam Hospital in Mumbai. The hospital, which was allegedly aiding the scam, has reportedly been sealed as the investigation continues.

“Those arrested are charged under criminal conspiracy, cheating, and forgery,” said Vishal Thakur, a police officer in Mumbai told the New York Times.

At least 12 fake vaccination drives were held in or near Mumbai, said Vishal Thakur. “They were using saline water and injecting it,” Thakur said. “Every fake vaccination camp that they held, they were doing this.”

An estimated 2,500 people were given fake shots, he said. The organizers charged their victims fees for the shots, earning up to Rs. 2,083,690 in total.

The case was first flagged to police last month after some of the individuals who thought they received the vaccine were suspicious that none of their vaccination certificates appeared on the government’s online portal.

In June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a centralized vaccine drive, in which a significant proportion of doses would be provided by the central government to states for free. Soon after, the country administered a record 8 million shots in a day — a “gladdening” sign of the program’s acceleration, said Modi.

So far, more than 62 million people — about 4.5 per cent of the country’s population — have been fully vaccinated, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

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