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Advanced laser spectroscopy detects fake Covid vaccines

19 Oct 2023

Consortium including University of Oxford, Agilent, World Health Organization, develops method to counter vaccine falsification.

There have been numerous instances of vaccine supply chains being infiltrated by falsified products, both for vaccines before the pandemic and for Covid-19 around the globe (as reported in the BMJ – British Medical Journal).

Since the emergence of Covid-19 and its immunisation programs worldwide, there have been over 184 public domain reports across 48 countries of diverted and substandard or falsified Covid-19 vaccines.

Apart from endangering the public, by not effectively protecting people from Covid-19, these incidences also risk undermining trust in vaccines. It is important to maintain integrity of supply chains by detecting falsified products rapidly and effectively, said the World Health Organization (WHO), this week.

To address this global health issue of falsified and substandard medical products, the WHO Member States have adopted a “prevent, detect, and respond” strategy. Currently though, there are no effective, readily accessible systems with rapid turnaround for vaccine identification to screen stocks at multiple locations in the supply chains. The detection of falsified vaccines relies instead on analysis performed in specialised laboratories.

In response to the need to develop new methods to screen stocks, a consortium of world leading experts convened in 2020 consisting of representatives from:

  • Oxford University Nuffield Department of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry and Department of Chemistry, UK
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • World Health Organization, Geneva
  • Agilent Technologies
  • Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery
  • Serum Institute of India
  • University of Huddersfield, UK
  • University of East London, UK

Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy

In line with WHO strategy, this multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research consortium has developed a new method of effectively and efficiently detecting falsified vaccines, which is described today (20/10/23) in the journal, Vaccine. The study demonstrates the viability of handheld Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) to rapidly authenticate Covid-19 vaccines through unopened vaccine vials.

SORS performs chemical analysis by shining a laser light into an intact vial of the vaccine and inspecting the light emanating from the vial to indicate the presence of different ingredients. SORS was originally invented and developed into a spinout company by the UK’s STFC Central Laser Facility. This company was acquired in 2017 by Agilent Technologies, where the technique continues to be developed for various applications.

“The use of the handheld Resolve's SORS technology for swift and non-intrusive analysis within sealed containers is ground-breaking, attributed to both SORS technology, and the inherent sensitivity of the optical design,” said Dr Rob Stokes, Field Detection Marketing Director at Agilent Technologies. “This approach not only advances vaccine authentication but also sets the stage for future high sensitivity analysis within sealed containers across diverse fields.”

SORS devices are currently used to screen for hazardous substances at airports and used widely by fire officers, military, border protection and law enforcement. Only minor modifications in sample compartment and software adaption are required for its deployment to identify falsified vaccines. That SORS can effectively screen for falsified vaccines without opening the vial is a major advantage in terms of speed of detection and ability to use vaccines that pass the SORS testing.

Professor John Collier, Director of the STFC Central Laser Facility, said, “SORS is poised to become an important tool to protect against falsified vaccines. Since first being developed at the STFC Central Laser Facility, this innovative technology continues to find new areas of application which could now include empowering governments and healthcare organisations to safeguard public health. It is a prime example of the enormous benefits of responding to global health challenges with strategic technological innovation.”

LaCroix Precision OpticsHÜBNER PhotonicsUniverse Kogaku America Inc.TRIOPTICS GmbHLASEROPTIK GmbHHyperion OpticsCeNing Optics Co Ltd
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