New on-the-spot test against COVID vaccine fraud



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Scientists in Liverpool, UK, have taken a step forward in the battle against ‘vaccine fraud’ with a new portable device to detect counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines.

Counterfeit vaccines have been reported in several countries and public health authorities, including in the UK, have expressed concern about a rise in darknet adverts for fake vaccines.

“Often these fakes are just saline solution, but some samples have been shown to be a different vaccine; so at best, you get ineffective treatment, and at worst lethal effects,” explained Dr Sulaf Assi, a senior lecturer in pharmacy at Liverpool John Moores University.

One year on from the first reported fakes, LJMU working with NHS Central Liverpool Primary Care Network and Perkin Elmer, has developed a portable method that can analyse vaccines non-destructively in their original vials.

Uses light to identify the vaccine

The near-infrared spectroscopic method works by analysing light as it passes through a substance, in this case the vaccine. By splitting light into its constituent wavelengths - just as a prism would split light into colours – the resultant wavelength analysis is used to determine the physicochemical properties of the sample.

In tests, the method was successful in authenticating 458 vaccines of the Messenger RNA (mRNA) type  - the most common COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer) - which work by teaching our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response to a virus.

The 100% accuracy of these tests should allow public health authorities to dispense with slow and expensive laboratory testing.

“Samples can be matched in less than a minute and the kit gives a simple Yes/No answer.

“Carrying out an on-the-spot test does not require specialist skills as long as libraries of vaccines/constituents are in place. It should prove useful to hospitals, clinics, vaccination sites, customs, pharmacies and the like,” says Dr Assi (pictured above). 

The results are published today (May 4th 2022) in Plos One, by Dr Assi with scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and the Lebanese University.

Notes:

  • Minimum sampling were required where what had been used were remainders in glass vials of each vaccine that had not been useful for use in patients.
  • The research paper - “Evaluation of portable near-infrared spectroscopy for authentication of mRNA based COVID-19 vaccines,” is due for publication on May 4, 2022, at 2pm ET.

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