MANILA, Philippines — With the projected COVID-19 vaccination of the general public in May or the second quarter of the year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Tuesday some tips on how to spot fake vaccines as Filipinos wait in line in the vaccination program.
In general, legitimate COVID-19 vaccines are not for sale, since vaccines approved for use in the country are only being administered through emergency use authorization (EUA). An EUA is issued to unregistered vaccines during a public health emergency and does not equate with a certificate of product registration or marketing authorization.
At present, there is no fake COVID-19 vaccine yet in the Philippines, according to Dr. Oscar Gutierrez Jr., FDA’s Deputy Director-General for Field Regulatory Operations. But if ever counterfeit doses would reach the market, he said it would be difficult to spot these as some of these products are “labeled and packaged to a high standard.”
He adds that sometimes, a laboratory test is the only way to identify the difference between a fake and genuine dose.
Still, there are some simple ways that would help the public identify a fake COVID-19 vaccine, which, when used, could give a false sense of protection and even lead to toxicity or death.
Gutierrez said four factors should be considered in determining if a vaccine is authentic or not.
According to Gutierrez, the public should get their COVID-19 shots only from vaccination sites accredited by the Department of Health (DOH).
“Never buy COVID-19 vaccines online, marketplace, and drug outlets. The government will provide and make sure that the vaccines are available for free,” he said in his presentation during an online media forum.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte also allowed Monday private firms to import COVID-19 vaccines. He said he had ordered vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. to sign documents that would allow the private sector to import the sought-after jabs.
Gutierrez also noted that screening is being done by a physician or healthcare professional before vaccination.
The person who will administer the vaccine should also be a healthcare worker.
He pointed out that under the normal procedure, an observation is being done to monitor the possible adverse effect to an individual who was vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines are offered for free by the government and are administered in vaccination sites authorized by the DOH.
Gutierrez said there are no reservations, enlistment or schedule fees, or advance payment whether in full or partial, required to receive the shots.
He added that legitimate COVID-19 vaccines cannot be purchased from private clinics or pharmacies as of now.
“Until a full market authorization is issued by the Philippine FDA, any COVID-19 vaccine should not be sold to the public,” he also said.
According to the FDA official, there are some physical differences that can be observed between genuine and fake vaccines.
Counterfeit vaccines, he said, are not correctly labeled or are not labeled at all. It also has an out-of-date or missing expiry date and does not contain information on how to store the vaccines.
He advised to check out if the packaging looks poorly constructed or appears to have been altered, or if there are spelling or grammatical errors on the packaging or instructions.
On the vial itself, check if it is dirty or scratched, or if the cap is dented or broken, or if the rubber seal is already punctured.
“For products that need to be diluted, the color changes or solution becomes cloudy. There are foreign matters inside the vial,” Gutierrez added.
Gutierrez then urged the public to report to the FDA those selling fake vaccines.
“As long as the public receives their vaccinations from a DOH-authorized vaccination site and the vaccines are given by licensed health practitioners, they can be confident they are receiving genuine vaccines,” he concluded.
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