by Steve TALLANT
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

At-home coronavirus test kits: the real counterfeiter's dream

In March of 2020, we knew so much less than we do now about COVID-19. One thing we did know, however, was that testing would be a critical element in fighting the pandemic. Testing sites were established around the globe, with unprecedented demand. It was completely predictable that the “bad guys” would look to profit by introducing counterfeit tests into the market. And they did. I wrote about it then in this post.

We are in a much different place in the pandemic now in January of 2022. Well, except for governmental agencies like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning us about a continued wave of fraudulent COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments

Thankfully, vaccines are now widely available. But new variants of the virus like Omicron are proving to be highly contagious and causing continued problems globally. There are still high percentages of unvaccinated people for a variety of reasons around the globe, some due to access (geography or age), some due to personal choice. Additionally, breakthrough infections to fully vaccinated individuals—including those who have been boosted—are occurring.

All public policy experts are encouraging one main risk mitigation strategy: testing!

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Rapid tests have been available for some time. They provide a great way for folks to test and discover quickly if there’s a strong chance they are positive. Typically, a follow-up PCR test is done to confirm the verdict. The challenge with both these tests, is that they have been conducted at in-person venues. The lack of convenience, and in-person requirement, limits overall accessibility.

Cue the arrival of pre-packaged, simple, at-home COVID-19 test kits. Judging by my local social media feed, people are mapping the retailers that have them, and flocking to them in droves. Posted sellouts and zero inventory left in stores is the result. Cue the redirect to online marketplaces.

The pandemic has fundamentally accelerated the volume of goods purchased online. Given the unprecedented demand for at-home test kits, if consumers can’t find a product locally, they are very comfortable going online to look for it. The largely unknown risk with online purchases is that a significant percentage of virtual “storefronts” are not actually part of the underlying platform. Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba are open platforms where it is easy for bad entities to set up shop and sell fake products.

As with the first wave of COVID-19 tests, no consumer has any clue what a “real” at-home test should look like. Essentially, consumers are buying a box with an unknown product inside and bringing it home for use—blindly trusting it. Counterfeiters undoubtedly have noticed this perfect storm of huge demand combined with limited supply of an easy-to-counterfeit product plus simple online channels available to market, sell and fulfill the delivery of counterfeit tests.

Government agencies like the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have posted consumer-facing warnings about purchasing online COVID tests. There is great information in this short FTC post. It highlights items I’ve also encouraged consumers to check prior to purchasing like reading the reviews of the online vendor, looking at how long that vendor has been on the platform and even verifying with the FDA website that a test is approved. Unfortunately, the onus is on the individual consumer to do all the protective due diligence.

I have also written about the “layers” necessary for brands to protect their products. COVID tests are no different. A combination of physical and digital authentication attributes needs to be associated with each and every test kit. Layers of product protection will help ensure that it can be validated within the supply chain and by the consumer as legitimate and safe—regardless of what channel the test was procured in. Thus, hyper-accelerating the discovery of counterfeit tests and the shutdown of illegitimate sellers.

Governments and manufacturers need to do more to make that level of security available. To ensure that these essential tests are authentic when they reach their consumers. Pharmaceutical serialization has been mandated by numerous governments globally as a measure to protect the drug supply chain, including COVID vaccines. At this point in the pandemic, tests are as essential a component as vaccines and treatments to solving this problem.

COVID tests play a part in ending the pandemic. Counterfeit COVID tests will directly lead to extending the pandemic by creating a wave of false positive and negative results.

I do believe that our e-Fingerprint® technology is a compelling solution for this issue. I would again advocate a digital authentication solution be made available for every test kit, so individuals can verify the test is legitimate before performing it. Remember, counterfeiters can copy additive protections like holograms, seals, inks and other packaging features quite easily and believably.

Are you a manufacturer concerned about counterfeiting? Reach out with your story.
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