MANILA — While there is no evidence yet to support claims that there are fake COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday called on both the public and the private sector to be vigilant against counterfeit drugs.
This, after the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) found 400 ampoules or 2,400 doses of fake COVID-19 vaccines in a warehouse in South Africa earlier this month.
“We act on all reports that we receive at FDA and we send investigators. So far the reports that we receive…when our inspectors visit the place, we didn’t find any vaccine or fake vaccine or even genuine ones as reported,” said Dr. Oscar Gutierrez, Deputy Director General of the FDA.
He also said the FDA is acting on all reports within 24 hours.
The public can however discern whether a vaccine is fake or not, he added. Here's a checklist on what consumers must know before getting inoculated with the vaccine.
WHERE IS IT AVAILABLE?
Although protocol changes might be expected since the private sector has reportedly been allowed to buy COVID-19 vaccines for their employees, Gutierrez reminded that the vaccines are still under emergency use authorization (EUA), which means they cannot be sold in the market.
So far only Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Gamaleya Institute’s Sputnik V vaccines have EUAs granted by the Philippines.
Gutierrez said COVID-19 vaccines currently cannot be sold online, in marketplaces, drug outlets, or even clinics and hospitals.
The current vaccines in the country are also offered for free by the government in Department of Health-authorized vaccination sites.
HOW IS IT GIVEN
Gutierrez said COVID-19 vaccines also require pre-vaccination screening by a healthcare professional. The person who will administer the dose should also be a healthcare worker.
After vaccination, the recipient should also be observed for any side effects.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
“Fake vaccines are produced by criminals to imitate the genuine ones and they are labelled and packaged to a high standard. Sometimes a laboratory test is the only way to identify the difference,” Gutierrez said.
But while it is difficult to spot fake vaccines, he said criminals may also make mistakes.
He said counterfeit products are usually not correctly labelled or not labelled at all. The packaging may also not include an expiry date or information on how to store the medicine.
Poor packaging, false spelling or grammatical errors may also be good red flags, he said.
Gutierrez said dirty or scratched vials, dented or broken caps, already punctured rubber seal and cloudy solution or foreign matter in the vial may also be signs that the vaccine is fake.
The Philippines has so far received more than 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac and AstraZeneca. Of those, more than 650,000 have been administered to mostly health workers.