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27 April 2021Big PharmaRory O'Neill

Counterfeiters ‘exploiting demand’ for COVID-19 vaccines

Pfizer has discovered counterfeit versions of its COVID-19 vaccine in Mexico and Poland, prompting governments to reassure the public over the safety of vaccine supply chains.

Separate investigations by authorities in the two countries discovered the fake doses, which were then seized. The counterfeit vaccine was administered to around 80 people in Mexico, who were all unharmed but unprotected against the virus, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The Polish health minister has said the risk of counterfeit doses appearing in the country’s official supplies of the vaccine were “practically non-existent”. The counterfeits discovered in the country are believed to be anti-wrinkle treatments, Pfizer said, while it is not thought that anyone received the fake vaccine.

Pfizer’s head of global security, Lev Kubiak, told the WSJ that criminals were exploiting the demand for vaccines, which is currently outstripping supply.

"We have a very limited supply, a supply that will increase as we ramp up and other companies enter the vaccine space. In the interim, there is a perfect opportunity for criminals," Kubiak said.

The discovery of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines comes as no surprise, said Geoffrey Potter, chair of the anti-counterfeiting practice at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

“Injectable medications, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices of all types are frequently counterfeited. Given the high demand and profit potential, there was never any question among brand protection professionals that COVID vaccines would also be counterfeited,” said Potter.

“A fake vaccine vial and label are simple to create from scratch. However, a lazy counterfeiter can purchase them ready made. Until recently, used COVID vaccine vials retrieved from trash could be purchased in bulk on eBay. Simply refilling them with water would make a difficult to detect counterfeit,” Potter explained.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned the public and governments of the dangers of counterfeit vaccines, and urged them not to try to procure jabs outside of official channels.

Potter continued: “Any government, healthcare provider, or patient that goes outside of the authorized chain of distribution to obtain a COVID vaccine is taking an inappropriate risk of ending up with a counterfeit.”

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