The theft of COVID-19 vaccines has been on the rise with the latest incident occurring in Plant City, Florida – about 60 miles southwest of Orlando.

Police have issued a nationwide alert for a person of interest that stole a vehicle on Wednesday containing vials of the COVID vaccine just before they were to be distributed at a vaccination site, WESH, an NBC affiliate out of Winter Park, Florida, reported.

The vehicle - a four-door, gray-colored 2018 Hyundai Accent with a Florida license plate of NPJJ58 - was stolen at approximately 3 p.m. from Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds - an inoculation site in Plant City.

According to a police report obtained by WESH, the vehicle had been left running and unlocked by the driver who worked for CDR Maguire – a contractor that provides vaccination scheduling and COVID testing.

Police said in the report that the driver had left the keys in the ignition and had stepped out of the car to ask for directions. 

The car was carrying 30 vials of the COVID vaccine that are estimated to be worth $10,000, the news outlet said.

It is unclear if the suspect knew that there were COVID vaccines inside the vehicle.

Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is now offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest or identification of the suspect, who is described as a light-skinned male in his 20s. The man has long hair and was wearing a light-colored hoodie at the time of the incident, police said. Information can be reported to Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at 1-800-873-8477.

Information about the theft can also be reported to the Plant City Police Department at 1-813-757-9200.

This is not the first incident of COVID vaccine theft.

In January, a doctor in Texas was charged with theft by a public servant after allegedly stealing nine doses of the vaccine to inoculate friends and family from a vaccine site in Humble, Texas.

In another case in January, a Polk County, Florida, paramedic, who previously won “Paramedic of the Year,” was arrested and charged with the theft of three doses of the COVID vaccine that were earmarked for first responders as part of an alleged coverup scheme. He faces multiple charges of forgery, falsifying medical records, uttering forged instruments, criminal use of a personal ID, and creating a fictional personal ID.

Vaccine vials made by German company Schott Vaccine vials made by German company Schott are pictured. Photo: AFP / Daniel ROLAND