Fake doses spotlight unique distribution-chain risks for Covid vaccines

April 22, 2021

Pfizer is working with local law enforcement to counter the threat

The news of the first instances of counterfeit versions of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine—the company confirmed yesterday they were identified in Mexico and Poland—wasn’t greeted with much shock from industry observers, including legal experts.

“Nobody who is a brand protection professional is at all surprised that this is occurring—and the expectation is that it will reoccur,” comments Geoffrey Potter, an attorney with Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, a New York law firm that does brand protection litigation. Potter, whose firm is not working with Pfizer on its vaccine program, notes that brand owners need to continue to work with government agencies and law enforcement to ensure that counterfeit pharmaceuticals are interdicted wherever they show up.

As detailed in a Wall Street Journal report, Pfizer is working with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, an arm of the Dept. of Homeland Security, in addition to local police in Mexico and Poland. A Pfizer investigation found that labels on the fake products did not have authentication features that the company has apparently included in its packaging. The vaccine vials contained either distilled water, or, in the case in Poland, hyaluronic acid. It seems that the counterfeiter simply relabeled those vials.

At some point in the future, Pfizer, as well as other vaccine manufacturers, will be marketing their products to private buyers (as opposed to the governmental purchases that have occurred to date). Already, Pfizer has branded its product, in Europe, as Comirnaty.

“Vaccines have been faked in the past, including those that show up in the US,” notes Potter. “Any time a buyer goes outside the normal chain of distribution, the risk of counterfeits is present.”

— Nick Basta