First came the fake medical-grade masks and coronavirus tests. Now, a new threat has emerged, global police organization Interpol warns: fake doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Interpol said Wednesday that police in China and South Africa have seized thousands of doses of fake vaccines — a cache it said was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

South African authorities recently seized 400 vials, which held around 2,400 doses, of counterfeit vaccines from a warehouse outside Johannesburg, Interpol said in a report Wednesday. The illicit stash also included fake 3M masks. South African officers apprehended three Chinese citizens and one Zambian national in relation to the raid.

In China, police seized a large cache of fake vaccine and arrested about 80 suspects during a recent raid on a manufacturing site, Interpol said.

“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 Jürgen Stock in a statement. “Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”

In December, Interpol warned of a likely growing threat of crime related to coronavirus vaccines, “with the pandemic having already triggered unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior,” the statement said.


The report said cases of counterfeit vaccine sales had already begun.

“In addition to the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products, an analysis by the Interpol’s Cybercrime Unit revealed that of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, around 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware,” the crime agency said.

Interpol has repeatedly stressed that coronavirus vaccines cannot be bought or sold over the internet and has urged the public to report such cases of criminal activity.

The World Health Organization has estimated that the world’s fake medication market is worth around $200 billion a year. While most of these counterfeit products originate in Asia, Interpol warned in December that the coronavirus pandemic was spurring a growth in the illicit medication trade in East Africa.