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

Jan 12, 2022
By Systech

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:

We are in a much different place in the pandemic here in January of 2022. Well, except for governmental agencies like the US FDA warning about a continued wave of fraudulent COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments:

Thankfully, vaccines are now widely available and are effective. 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. Thankfully, breakthrough cases are generally mild, but they can still spread the virus.

All public policy experts are encouraging one main risk mitigation strategy: TESTING.

Rapid tests have been available for some time. They have been a great way to encourage folks to test, and discover if there’s a good chance they are positive. Typically, a follow-up PCR test is then done to confirm the verdict. The rapid tests, however, have been conducted at in-person venues. This lack of convenience, and in-person requirement, limits its overall effectiveness.

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 bought online. Given the unprecedented demand for at-home test kits, if consumers can’t find a product locally, they are very comfortable going online looking for it. The largely unknown element of a significant percentage of online purchases is that the virtual “storefronts” are not actually part of the underlying platform. Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba are actually 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, an easy to counterfeit product plus simple online platforms available to market, sell and fulfill the delivery of counterfeit tests.

Government agencies like the US FTC have posted consumer-facing warnings about purchasing online COVID tests:

There is great information in that short FTC post. Items I’ve mentioned consumers to look at before 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. All of this puts the onus on the consumer to do all the protective due diligence.

COVID tests are no different. A combination of physical and digital authentication attributes need to be associated with each and every COVID test. Layers of product protection that will ensure that, regardless of what channel the test was procured in, that it can be validated within the supply chain and by the consumer as legitimate and safe. And hyper-accelerating the discovery of counterfeit tests, and the shutdown of illegitimate storefronts selling them.

Governments and manufacturers need to do more however to make that level of security available. Governments need to ensure that these essential tests are authentic when they get to their citizen’s hands. 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 (if medicines, also serialized) to solving this problem.

COVID tests will be part of 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-fingerprinting technology is a compelling solution for this issue. I would again advocate a digital authentication solution be made available for each and every test, 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.


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