A car containing vials of the COVID-19 vaccine was stolen from the Plant City Strawberry Festival grounds Wednesday afternoon, police say.
The Plant City Police Department is requesting assistance in locating a 2018 gray Hyundai Accent bearing Florida license plate NPJJ58, which was stolen from the Red Parking Lot on the grounds, located at 2805 West Reynolds Street, in Plant City.
Police say the vehicle contained 30 vials of COVID-19 vaccine, each containing five or six doses, to be distributed at the Plant City distribution location (Strawberry Festival grounds), meaning around 150-180 doses were in the car.
At the time of the theft, they were properly refrigerated, officials say.
Authorities say the theft happened when a Hillsborough County contract employee, pulled over just outside the Strawberry Festival grounds distribution area and left the keys in the ignition and vaccine in the car. As he walked into the secured area of the site to ask for instructions, officers say his vehicle was stolen.
“A person walking by that saw a crime of opportunity and stole the car. It doesn’t appear that they knew what the car contained but we’re keeping an open mind to that,” said Capt. Jerry Stwan with Plant City Police Department.
The suspect is described as a thin, white or Hispanic male, wearing a light-colored hoodie. The suspect is believed to be in his early 20s. Police released surveillance video of a person of interest at the scene:
Detectives immediately responded to the incident location and a nationwide alert was placed on the vehicle.
“Whether it was intentional or by chance, these vaccines were stolen, I'm sure there will be lessons learned on better security measures for these vaccines because they’re very precious to a lot of people in our state,” Stwan said.
Hillsborough County says the theft did not impact Wednesday’s scheduled vaccinations.
Anyone with information on the theft should contact Plant City Police Department at 813-757-9200.
Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the identification and arrest of the unknown suspect(s) involved in this case or the whereabouts of the stolen property.
Anyone with any information regarding the identity of the suspect(s) and who wants to be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477), report anonymously online, or send a mobile tip using the P3 Tips Mobile application. Crime Stoppers must be contacted first in order to be eligible for a cash reward.