Falsified vials of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine found in Iran

Counterfeit copies of AstraZeneca's widely-use COVID-19 vaccine have been discovered in Iran, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In an alert, the WHO said that suspect vials of the ChAdOx1-S vaccine developed with Oxford University in the UK - known as Covishield in some markets - had been confirmed as falsified by the pharma company.

The vials had reached patients but were distributed "outside authorised and regulated supply chains and authorised immunisation programmes" in Iran.

The counterfeiters adopted a widely used strategy in coming up with the counterfeits, illicitly refilling vials of used and discarded genuine vaccine.

"The metal cap on samples of these falsified products displays evidence of tampering, indicating the metal cap was removed in order to refill the vials, and later replaced onto the vial," said the WHO in its alert.

"These falsified products are difficult to detect – as they may appear indistinguishable from genuine AstraZeneca…vaccine," it added.

This type of medicines falsification is particularly concerning as there is no guarantee that the material used to fill the vials is sterile – raising the risk of infections – and free of noxious substances that could cause serious side effects. In these cases the contents is often tap water.

It goes without saying that someone who received the shot is at elevated risk of developing COVID-19, which may be severe and life-threatening.

Counterfeiting has been reported with most of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for use in immunisation campaigns, including Pfizer/BioNTech's Comirnaty and the Russian Sputnik V shot.

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