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How to spot a counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine

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Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

To the naked eye, there’s no discernible difference between the potentially life-saving liquid inside a COVID-19 vaccine vial and any other clear liquid.  In fact, not even trained personnel tasked with administering the vaccine will be able to test on the spot if the liquid contains the authentic mRNA vaccine. The technology needed to make these observations in the field simply doesn’t exist, says Nikos Passas, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern.

As public health officials plan for widespread distribution of the long-awaited vaccines, ensuring that vaccines are authentic could emerge as an important issue. If the first round of doses are scarce—and desperation for a quick COVID-19 solution is strong—counterfeiters could attempt to capitalize on the opportunity, Passas says. “The problem we have is a clear mismatch in supply and demand,” he says. “Whenever you have this kind of asymmetry, you can expect illicit markets to pop up.” 

To fight the trade of counterfeit vaccines and other medicines and supplies, Passas and a team of researchers are analyzing global trade networks and collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, banks, and law enforcement worldwide on how to ensure quality control and stop the illicit flow of potentially ineffective—or even fatal—fakes.

Continue reading at News@Northeastern.

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