Customs officials have seized 76 boxes of suspected counterfeit HPV (human papillomavirus) shots in what could be the first ever recovery of fake vaccines in Hong Kong. Two people have been arrested.
The vaccines, with an estimated market value of HK$174,800 (US$22,352), were confiscated from Harmony Medical Care Services located at Entrepot Centre in Kwun Tong.
During a joint operation by the Customs and Excise Department and the Department of Health on Wednesday, 47 boxes of genuine vaccines were also taken away from the facility, with the estimated market value of all the goods totalling to about HK$280,000.
Lot Chan Sze-tao, chief pharmacist at the Department of Health’s drug office, said they received a complaint after a person got an HPV shot at the medical centre earlier this month.
“The complainant spoke of very mild redness and swelling at the injected area,” Chan said, adding they did not receive any other complaints regarding the medical centre.
While the suspected fake vaccines were still being tested for their ingredients and possible side effects, he warned people of possible consequences of using counterfeit products.
“[It is possible] the fake vaccines do not contain any active ingredients, so they will not provide any protection,” he said. “In worst case, the products might contain harmful substances, causing safety issues.”
HPV vaccines are intended for protection against the human papillomavirus, which increases the risk of, among several other diseases, cervical cancer – the seventh most common cancer among local women in 2016. That year, there were 510 new cervical cancer cases.
Kwan Kin-keung, head of intellectual property investigation bureau at the Customs and Excise Department said Harmony Medical Care’s male director, 49, and a 33-year-old male staff member were arrested.
Chan said the centre had two fridges where they used to keep the suspected counterfeit and real vaccines separately.
“We believe that the centre tried to con patients by providing real products to those who questioned.”
Also, a comma was found at the end of the last of three lines that list all the active ingredients on the box of the suspected vaccines.
The centre, which was registered to the Companies Registry in May and only provided vaccination services, has stopped operations.
He added that the centre offered three jabs for around HK$7,000, which is comparable to the market value.
Chan said the Department of Health had received more than 1,000 complaints related to HPV vaccines this year.
But Kwan said he believed there were not many counterfeit vaccines on the market. He urged those who got injections from the centre to visit a doctor if they felt unwell or had any doubts.
Chan also urged people to get vaccine shots only from their family doctors, or doctors they know well, while requesting doctors to purchase medical products and vaccines from licensed wholesalers.
More from South China Morning Post:
- HPV vaccine patients, many from mainland China, head to AMH Medical Diagnostic Group clinic in Hong Kong after claims that the doses were smuggled into the city
- Hong Kong health authorities probe at least one private clinic over fears of smuggled Gardasil 9 HPV vaccines