How top city firms paid for fake Covid vaccines

Saturday July 24 2021
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Dr Warren Namaara of the State House Health Monitoring Unit displays a fake identity card that the suspects used at his office in Kampala last week. PHOTOS/ RACHEL Mabala.

By Benson Tumusiime

Details of how some 800 employees of more than 20 top city companies were conned into taking water jabs instead of AstraZeneca vaccines to protect themselves against Covid-19, have emerged.

A source close to State House Health Monitoring Unit, the lead investigating body into the Covid-19 vaccination scam, told Saturday Monitor that the fraudulent scheme involved a one Dr Francis Baguma and several accomplices from Mulago National Referral Hospital, and the Ministry of Health.

 The source claimed the gang first obtained vaccination materials that included consent forms of Ministry of Health, pieces of forged Covid-19 vaccination cards, forged stamps of gazetted vaccination points in Kampala, plus forged staff identity cards of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

 Armed with these seemingly genuine vaccination accessories, the alleged swindlers then set out to exploit the confidence of their victims, which included prominent banks, telecom and insurance companies, beverage manufacturers, and big construction firms.

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Dr Namaara displays a fake bottle of the vaccine that the suspects used.

 Overall, the police say the fake Covid-19 vaccine con job left more than 800 people and 22 companies being vaccinated with water instead of AstraZeneca vaccine to fight Covid-19.

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 The source said Baguma and his team reportedly approached these top corporates, introducing themselves as officials from the Ministry of Health, tasked with Covid-19 outreach vaccination programme. They reportedly said their outreaches targeted quickly availing Covid-19 vaccines to the busy corporate staff who had no time to queue up at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds, Ministry of Health headquarters and other designated vaccination points across the city.

Whereas Covid-19 vaccination is done at no cost, the investigators claim Baguma and his clique negotiated and charged corporate rates for the companies, ranging from Shs100,000 to Shs200,000.

 “Baguma and team approached the companies and other individuals and negotiated to vaccinate their staff from office premises and others from high-range hospitals within Kampala,” the source said.

The fake vaccines

The source said investigations into the thievery indicates that Baguma and his team first imported empty vials, then manufactured labels from Kampala’s printing hub on Nasser Road and used tap water to fill the vials.

 Dr Warren Namaara of the State House Health Monitoring Unit had earlier said the contents of the bogus vaccine are suspected to have been stolen from somewhere or manufactured in Kampala.

 “The Covid-19 vaccines are of 5mls but this counterfeit one is actually more, and the top of the vial is tempered with,” he said.

 Dr Namaara told Saturday Monitor that they have written to the affected companies and they have responded positively.

 “We got their responses and we are using them in our investigation,” he said.

Most of the companies cited to have been conned declined to comment.

But Mr Robert Kazoora, the senior communications officer at Dott Services, denied receiving any of the fake vaccines.

“Dott Service is not a health centre or vaccination facility. We employ very many people across the country and if there are any of our staff who took that vaccine, we shall find out because vaccination was at individual level and not company level. We did not carry out any mass vaccination at any Dott Services offices across the country,” he said.

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Dr Namaara displays the top of the fake bottles.

But Dr Namaara assured them not to worry, saying: “This was an individual crime and not an institutional crime. I strongly suspect this con man carried out the vaccination while looking for money, but not to harm anyone. He could have injected all those people with water packed in similar Covid-19 vaccine bottles.”

The investigators said the alleged deception by Baguma and his inner circle came to an end when they conducted an illegal vaccination camp near Kiswa Health Centre IV, the official vaccination point set up by the Ministry of Health under KCCA in Nakawa Division, Kampala.

 Dr Namaara said they were first alerted by social media posts and information from Nakawa Division Resident City Commissioner (RCC) about people carrying out mobile Covid-19 vaccination exercise.

 Later, two nurses who were going around vaccinating individuals, corporate institutions with the fake vaccines were arrested and taken to Jinja Road Police Station [in Kampala] for further interrogation.

But Dr Naamara said the prime suspect Baguma, is still on the run.

He said Baguma is a university dropout from Makerere University, who had been pursuing a degree in Statistics. He said police detectives had also established contacts with his parents, but did not elaborate.    

The State House Health Monitoring Unit, has  however, appealed  to the public to provide any clues leading to the arrest of Baguma.

 Dr Namaara told Saturday Monitor from his office at Nakasero that they had seized several suspected fake Covid-19 vaccine vials together with the genuine ones.

They were sent for analysis to the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory at Wandegeya, and the National Drug Authority (NDA), both in Kampala.

 Dr Namaara said NDA then forwarded the suspected fake Covid-19 samples to the Serum Institute of India, the manufacturers of vaccines and immuno-biologicals, for comparison with the genuine AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines.

 The Serum institute of India then confirmed that the batch in question was never supplied to Uganda.

It also confirmed that the product label details were falsified.

The Government Analytical Laboratory also confirmed that the seized so-called Covid-19 vaccine vials were not similar to the genuine vials.

 The analyses also confirmed that the content of the fake Covid-19 vials were non-toxic.

“The fake vaccines were more of water than anything else from the chemical contents analysed,” Dr Namaara said.

 Dr Namaara said the State House Health Monitoring Unit is working closely with Ministry of Health, the police, the Internal Security Organisation, the office of RCC Nakawa, NDA and National Medical Stores to investigate the scam.

Conned

Affected companies

Some of the companies that Dr Namaara listed at the media briefing include Dott Service Ltd,

Seven Hills, United Bank of Africa, Tororo Cement, Uganda Baati, Madhvani Group of Companies, EAP Insurance Company, Dot Max Packaging, Riham Cola, and Smile Company.

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