Fake COVID-19 vaccines seized in South Africa, China: Interpol

The Lyon-based Interpol said 400 vials - equivalent to around 2,400 doses - containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston outside Johannesburg in South Africa, where officers also recovered fake masks and arrested three Chinese and a Zambian national.

South Africa police officers seized hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines and made several arrests following a global alert issued by Interpol. Picture: Interpol

LYON - Police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of fake doses of COVID-19 jabs, global police organisation Interpol said on Wednesday, warning this represented only the "tip of the iceberg" in vaccine-related crime.

The Lyon-based Interpol said 400 vials - equivalent to around 2,400 doses - containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston outside Johannesburg in South Africa, where officers also recovered fake masks and arrested three Chinese and a Zambian national.

In China, police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines in an investigation supported by Interpol which has 194 member countries, it said.

They raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene, it said.

Interpol earlier this year issued an "Orange Notice" warning authorities worldwide to prepare for organised crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

"Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine-related crime," said Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock.

Interpol said that in addition to the arrests in South Africa and China it was also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies such as nursing homes.

It warned that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online.

"Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous."

Stock had warned in December in an interview with German weekly WirtschaftsWoche of a sharp rise in crime due to the vaccine rollout, with thefts and warehouse break-ins and attacks on vaccine shipments.

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