Social media posts and online ads claiming to sell COVID-19 vaccines are lying. Here's how to protect yourself from getting scammed.

Social media posts and online ads claiming to sell COVID-19 vaccines are lying. Here's how to protect yourself from getting scammed.
Vials of undiluted Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to administer to staff and residents at a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30, 2020.Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
  • Fraudulent vaccines and other coronavirus treatments have cropped up worldwide since the start of the pandemic.
  • A shipment of fake vaccines was intercepted in South Africa in March.
  • The FDA has issued guidance to consumers to protect themselves from COVID-19-related scams.

Fake coronavirus vaccines have cropped up around the world, ranging from a major ring in China to a 55-year-old man in the Pacific Northwest accused of selling bogus vaccines. The FDA has issued warnings about false coronavirus tests and counterfeit vaccines as people globally scramble to get their shots.

Here's what you need to know to protect yourself, and a rundown of some of the major vaccine scams.

Beware of any online ads or social media posts selling vaccines - they're scams

Interpol warned that there are not any approved vaccines for sale on the internet after it recently learned of a scam in which at least 2,400 fake vaccine doses were shipped from China to South Africa by a smuggling ring, TIME reported.

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In January, the US Justice Department issued a warrant for and arrested Johnny Stine, a 55-year-old Washington man purporting to be a biotech executive who sold fake vaccines for prices ranging from $400 to $1,000 and administered shots of an unknown substance, according to a complaint. An undercover agent solicited a vaccination from Stine, providing proof of the fraudulent operation. The Justice Department press release stated that at least one of the people Stine purported to vaccinate was hospitalized with coronavirus after their injection. It is unclear how Stine will plead.

And in China, a scammer known as Kong sold vaccines that contained saline solution or mineral water. He and his operation created nearly 60,000 fraudulent doses, according to reporting from the BBC.


Social media provides a fertile ground for medical scams in general. ABC News reported that YouTube took down a video which stated that the pandemic was effectively over. And USA Today also reported that Facebook groups circulating false information about vaccines, including that the coronavirus shot causes infertility, have hundreds of thousands of members.

The FDA issued a warning urging people to "beware of fraudulent coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments." Part of its monitoring of false coronavirus information involves flagging retailers who are selling misleading treatments for the virus. The agency posted pictures on Flickr of essential oils, teas, and other misleading products.

The FDA urges consumers to be cautious of buying treatments for coronavirus online, and warns that products not evaluated by the agency can be suspicious.

"If it seems too good to be true," the agency warns consumers, "it probably is."

The FTC also urged people not to post photos of their vaccine cards on social media, saying that the private information makes users more vulnerable to hackers.