South African police have seized hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines and arrested four suspects in connection with the haul, the Interpol global police co-ordination agency said.
This comes after Interpol, which is headquartered in France, issued a global alert in December to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online.
Some 400 ampoules - equivalent to about 2,400 doses - containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks, the agency said on Wednesday on its website.
Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested.
The seizure and arrests in South Africa led to the identification of a network selling counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines in China, Interpol said in an emailed comment.
Police in China then raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects. More than 3,000 fake vaccines were seized on the scene, Interpol said on its website.
"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 investigations are continuing and it is also receiving additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health institutions, such as nursing homes.