How Can You Identify Fake COVID-19 Vaccines?

By Shantanu Sodhi +2 more

India’s vaccination drive for COVID-19 has been progressing steadily and as of September 2021, a sizable chunk of the population had received at least 1 dose. While this is good news, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can be freed from the clutches of COVID-19.

In the midst of all this, it has come to light that there could be reasons for doubting the authenticity of the vaccines being administered in the country, namely Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. Recent cases of fake COVID-19 Vaccines being sold in South-East Asia and Africa prompted the WHO to issue a warning regarding the circulation of counterfeit vaccines and the need to be able to identify them. 

Now the Indian government has responded by issuing guidelines to help identify fake COVID-19 vaccines being used in the country.

Spotting fake Covaxin – Guidelines  

As per WHO vaccination guidelines, checking the authenticity of the vaccine will help curb the spread of fake COVID-19 vaccines. The more vaccine awareness there is, the harder it is for fakes to get into the system. Covaxin can be easily identified by a few markers like:

  • The label uses a UV helix symbol that can only be seen under UV light, this acts as a simple and effective mark of authenticity.
  • A holographic effect can be seen on the ”Covaxin” spelling, while a green coloured foil effect should be noticeable on the X of the same.
  • There is also micro text hidden in the label which spells out Covaxin.

Spotting fake Covishield – Guidelines

Along with Covaxin, Covishield was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for use in India. Knowing the signs of the authentic Covishield vaccine will help to curb fake COVID-19 vaccines. There are several key ways to identify an authentic Covishield vaccine:

  • The label and aluminium seal are both in a dark green colour, this should be obvious from the first look.
  • The Serum Institute of India logo (SII) is printed on the adhesive side, it is angled and positioned in such a way that it can be correctly identified by select people who know the exact details. 
  • The Covishield brand name is mentioned on the label with the trademark symbol.
  • The vaccine’s generic name is not printed in bold and is overprinted with the words CGS NOT FOR SALE.
  • A honeycomb pattern can be seen on the whole label when the vial is seen at a particular angle, a few alterations have been made to this honeycomb pattern in specific locations that are known only to people familiar with the design. 

Spotting fake Sputnik V – Guidelines

This Russian developed vaccine was approved after Covaxin and Covishield, it is being distributed in India through Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. Although Sputnik V is being produced by two Russian manufacturing sites, the labels will be identical in design and text except for the manufacturing centre’s name:

  • The vaccines are being packaged in cartons with 5 ampoules in each carton, the front and back of these cartons will be printed in English.
  • All other labels (including those on the vaccine ampoule itself) are in Russian.
  • No further markers of authenticity have been issued as of now.

Should you be worried about fake COVID-19 Vaccines?

While fake pharmaceuticals are a bane in virtually every country, for now, the menace of fake vaccines for COVID-19 has been limited to just South-East Asia and Africa. Only a few stray incidents have been reported in India. 

In some cases, the doctors and medical staff in charge of performing the vaccination may also benefit from knowing these subtle differences to provide an additional layer of safety to the general public. By the time the vaccine reaches you, it has passed through several qualified and trusted experts so the chances that you will end up with a fake vaccine in your system are very rare.

While counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines are something we need to be alert for, it isn’t likely to affect you if the concerned people do their job. Keep these signs of authentic vaccines in mind when you go in for your shot, but don’t expect that you will spot a fake since that remains unlikely at this point in time. 


So what can you do to help the situation? It is important to get your vaccination (and all your pharmaceuticals) from authorized and trusted sources (government-recognized hospitals and vaccine centres). Do not fall for ‘cheaper’ vaccine promises and always check the latest news to keep your vaccine awareness up-to-date. If you notice shady, illegal or inauthentic distribution and sale by persons (or groups) claiming to provide a vaccine that is not approved by the government, report them to the authorities at the earliest. And if you happen to spot a consignment of Covaxin, Covishield or Sputnik vaccines that do not match the above descriptions, bring it to the attention of the police, the Health Ministry as well as any local hospital that is performing COVID-19 vaccinations. Be aware and stay safe!

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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