Coronavirus vaccine boxes must be defaced with permanent marker and destroyed before they are thrown away, official guidance warns.
NHS England instructions say this is to stop thieves using the cartons to sell fake jabs on doorsteps and the dark web.
They add that vials, which contain doses before they are put into syringes, can only be binned with used needles in yellow clinical waste bags.
While there have been no reports of jab packaging being stolen, the NHS claims this remains a ‘significant risk’.
It comes after Pfizer revealed yesterday that it had discovered fake versions of its jab being sold in Mexico and Poland at £700 ($1,000) each.
A fraudster was caught in January giving out a fake vaccine in Britain for £160, and one vial was swiped from an inoculation centre in March.
AstraZeneca jab cartons (pictured) must be drawn on with permanent marker before they are binned, official instructions say
And boxes containing the Pfizer jabs (pictured) must also have their labels defaced and destroyed before they are disposed of as confidential waste
HAVE ANY COVID VACCINES BEING STOLEN?
There have been no reports of Covid vaccine packaging – used to transport the precious jabs – being stolen since the roll-out began in December.
But there has been a case of a vaccine vial – a small glass bottle containing around six doses of the jab – being swiped from a centre in Edinburgh.
A 41-year-old man was charged with the crime in late March, after the vial was taken from a centre on Morrison street.
Neil Wilson, chief inspector at Police Scotland, said they were pursuing a ‘positive line of inquiry’.
‘Members of the public are reminded to remain vigilant to fraudulent offers of vaccine, which pose a risk to public health.’
Covid vaccines are not available to private buyers, and are only being sold by vaccine companies to public bodies and national governments.
Britain has secured millions of doses of a range of Covid vaccines, enough to inoculate the country several times over.
Ministers say this is to ensure they also have enough to administer booster shots to protect against variants that could dodge the current crop of jabs.
And that any extra doses will be donated to less wealthy countries vaccination drives.
NHS England guidance, titled ‘Novel coronavirus standard operating procedure’, on how to dispose of Covid vaccine boxes reads: ‘All vaccine branded packaging which includes identifiable and sensitive information about the vaccine should be defaced, destroyed, and disposed of as confidential waste.
‘This is to ensure patient safety, as well as to prevent vaccine packaging from being stolen and criminally reused or falsified for exploitation, e.g, making counterfeit vaccines to appear legitimate on the black market.’
On vials, they say: ‘All needles, syringes and vials should be disposed of as clinical waste and placed into the yellow lidded sharps bins.
‘Vials must be put in the sharps container to prevent vaccine vials from being stolen or used to facilitate counterfeit vaccines.’
The Specialist Pharmacy Service (SPS) — which provides advice to medics dishing out jabs — also says vaccine packaging should be defaced before it is binned.
Its guidance on disposing of AstraZeneca jab packaging — a cardboard carton that contains at least seven vials — says they should be defaced ‘using permanent marker pens, and must be disposed of via the confidential waste stream’.
‘Alternatively, packaging must be stored in a secure container(s) and shredded on-site,’ it added.
When disposing of Pfizer packaging — large boxes stamped with the manufacturer’s logo that can contain 1,000 vials — they say labels must be ‘defaced or destroyed’ before the box is thrown away ‘due to the risk of theft of empty packaging’.
They are yet to provide specific guidance on how to dispose of Moderna’s vaccine, which was offered for the first time in the UK last week.
Pfizer revealed yesterday as many as 80 fake jabs were confiscated in Mexico, after authorities found them being sold out of a beer cooler.
They added officials in Poland had seized an undisclosed number of Pfizer-branded vials that were filled with an anti-wrinkle cream.
Criminals first began marketing the counterfeit vaccines on the dark web as early as March 2020 despite none being approved until December. China and South Africa have both confiscated thousands of fake doses being manufactured at warehouses.
In Britain a 92-year-old woman was charged £160 for a fake Covid vaccine in January, after a fraudster turned up on her London doorstep claiming to be from the NHS.
And a Covid vaccine vial was also stolen from a vaccination clinic in Edinburgh this March, with a 41-year-old man charged over the theft.
AstraZeneca said its vaccines are delivered in sealed cardboard cartons each containing at least seven vials, which are secured inside a larger box for transport at fridge temperature.
These are GPS tracked and temperature controlled, to ensure officials can keep an eye on them and that they remain at the right temperature
Pfizer delivers its shots in a large box that can carry up to 1,000 vials, which is surrounded by another box containing dry ice to keep them at an ultra-cold -70C (-94F). These are also GPS tracked and temperature controlled.
Fake Covid jabs were listed on the dark web for around $275 as early as March last year according to scientists at City, University of London. This was despite the first legitimate jabs not being approved and dished out until December.
Britain’s drug regulator — the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) — had not heard of any Pfizer jab vials being stolen by the end of March. The same information was not provided for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
More than 33million people in Britain have already received their first dose of the Covid vaccine, and 10million have got both doses.
Boris Johnson is aiming to offer all adults at least one dose of the Covid vaccine by the end of July.
But the national drive was hit by a setback last month after a delivery of five million AstraZeneca doses from India was delayed amid spiralling cases in the country.
And the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) ruled under-30s should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab after it was linked to very rare cases of blood clots.
This has led to the NHS stockpiling Pfizer and Moderna doses to ensure there are enough for younger age groups, meaning fewer jabs are available for first doses.
Vaccines are also not available for private sale, after jab manufacturers agreed they could only sell them to governments and other public bodies.
The NHS is dishing out the doses by age groups, following advice from No10’s top scientists that older people who are most at risk of death and severe illness should be first in line.