To the naked eye, there’s no discernible difference between the potentially life-saving liquid inside a COVID-19 vaccine vial and any other clear liquid.

In fact, not even trained personnel tasked with administering the vaccine will be able to test on the spot if the liquid contains the authentic mRNA vaccine. The technology needed to make these observations in the field simply doesn’t exist, says Nikos Passas, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern.

To fight the trade of counterfeit vaccines and other medicines and supplies, Passas and a team of researchers are analyzing global trade networks and collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, banks, and law enforcement worldwide on how to ensure quality control and stop the illicit flow of potentially ineffective—or even fatal—fakes. Tracking transactions will be a main strategy the team employs to disrupt chains of counterfeit products.

“We want to follow the money and other trails,” says Passas, who is joined by Northeastern professors Mansoor Amiji and Ravi Sundaram, Boston University professor Muhammad Zaman, and University of Houston professor Ioannis Kakadiaris on the National Science Foundation-funded task force.


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