Innovative method for rapid detection of falsified COVID-19 vaccines through unopened vials using handheld Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS)

20 Oct 2023
Sara Mosca, Qianqi Lin, Robert Stokes, Tehmina Bharucha, Bevin Gangadharan, Rebecca Clarke, Laura Gomez Fernandez, Michael Deats, John Walsby-Tickle, Benediktus Yohan Arman, Shrikrishna R. Chunekar, Kundan D. Patil, Sunil Gairola, Kerlijn Van Assche
Susanna Dunachie, Hamid A Merchant, Rutendo Kuwana, Alexandrine Maes, James McCullagh, Céline Caillet, Nicole Zitzmann, Paul N Newton, Pavel Matousek


Preventing, detecting, and responding to substandard and falsified vaccines is of critical importance for ensuring the safety, efficacy, and public trust in vaccines. This is of heightened importance in context of public health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which extreme world-wide shortages of vaccines provided a fertile ground for exploitation by falsifiers. Here, a proof-of-concept study explored the feasibility of using a handheld Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) device to authenticate COVID-19 vaccines through rapid analysis of unopened vaccine vials. The results show that SORS can verify the chemical identity of dominant excipients non-invasively through vaccine vial walls. The ability of SORS to identify potentially falsified COVID-19 vaccines was demonstrated by measurement of surrogates for falsified vaccines contained in vaccine vials. In all cases studied, the SORS technique was able to differentiate between surrogate samples from the genuine COVISHIELD™ vaccine. The genuine vaccines tested included samples from six batches across two manufacturing sites to account for any potential variations between batches or manufacturing sites. Batch and manufacturing site variations were insignificant. In conjunction with existing security features, for example on labels and packaging, SORS provided an intrinsic molecular fingerprint of the dominant excipients of the vaccines. The technique could be extended to other COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 vaccines, as well as other liquid medicines. As handheld and portable SORS devices are commercially available and widely used for other purposes, such as airport security, they are rapidly deployable non-invasive screening tools for vaccine authentication.