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False health passports: the new problem of the coronavirus pandemic

With the arrival in more and more countries of the health passport, a pass to the “new normal” for those vaccinated, and a punishment for those who deny vaccines, a new problem of the pandemic arises: fake certificates.

In France, where a health pass in the form of a QR on the cell phone is vital to live outside doors, go to a museum, have a coffee or get on a bus, the anti-vaccines found a way to buy one online for 200 euros.

Something similar happens in the United States, but with a difference. In the US there is no digital passport. What there is a paper certificate, and getting a trucho pass is even easier than in Europe.

As the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads across the United States, more and more universities require the vaccination certificate against COVID-19 so that students can attend face-to-face classes.

However, the new mandate opened the door for those who oppose getting vaccinated cheat the system, according to interviews with students and education officials and security forces.

Both teachers and students in dozens of schools interviewed by The Associated Press say they are concerned about how easy it is to get fake vaccination cards.

An industry is born

On the Internet has emerged a cottage industry to accommodate people who say they don’t get vaccinated for personal or religious reasons.

An Instagram account with the username vaccinationcards sells laminated COVID-19 vaccination cards for $ 25 each. A user of the encrypted messaging application Telegram offers “COVID-19 vaccination cards” for up to $ 200 each one.

There are increasing inquiries to these sites and others like them, which appear to be from those trying to obtain fake vaccination cards for college.

One Reddit user commented in a thread about counterfeiting COVID-19 vaccination cards: “I need one for college too. I refuse to be a guinea pig.”

Don’t say dos

On Twitter, a user with more than 70,000 followers tweeted: “My daughter bought two fake certificates online for $ 50 while she was in college. Shipped from China. Does anyone have the link for the vaccine cards? “

According to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 675 colleges and universities now require ainoculation proof against COVID-19. The process to confirm vaccination at many universities can be as simple as upload a photo of the card of vaccination to the student portal.

In Nashville, Vanderbilt University holds a student’s enrollment in a course until their immunization history has been verified, unless they have approved medical care or a religious exemption.

The University of Michigan says it has a system to confirm vaccinations for employees and students. A university spokesperson told the AP that the university found no problem so far with students who have falsified their COVID-19 vaccination record cards.

But Benjamin Mason Meier, professor of global health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, question the way in which institutions can verify those records.

A paper certificate

“The United States, unlike most countries that have electronic systems, bases its vaccination on a flimsy paper certificate“, He said.

Meier tweeted last week that he had spoken to several students concerned about the accessibility of fraudulent vaccination cards and that they knew of a classmate who had presented one at the university.

“Accountability policies need to be in place to ensure that all students operate in the collective interest of the entire campus,” he said.

In a statement to the AP, the UNC said that it conducts periodic document verification and that lying about vaccination status or falsifying documents is a violation of the university’s COVID-19 community standards and may result in disciplinary measures.

“It is important to note that UNC-Chapel Hill has so far not found any cases of a student uploading a false immunization certificate. Those claims are simply rumors right now, “the university said.

But other non-teaching and teaching university staff members have raised concerns about the alleged falsification of vaccination cards. Rebecca Williams, a research associate at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center and the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said that while she is concerned about these claims, they do not surprise her.

“That is why I believe that the development of a reliable national application of digital passport Vaccination is very important for the good of all organizations and companies that want to require proof of vaccination from their employees, students or clients, “said Williams.

The AP spoke with several students across the country who did not want to be identified, but said they were aware of attempts to obtain fake cards.

Some school officials acknowledge that an infallible system is impossible.

“As with any event that potentially requires certification, there is the potential for an individual to falsify documentation,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, ​​a spokesman for the office of the chancellor at California State University. The education system, the largest in the country, oversees some 486,000 students every year on 23 campuses.

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, director of health at the University of Southern California and a member of the American University Health Association’s COVID-19 task force, said college campuses are especially difficult environments to control the spread of COVID-19.

There, tens of thousands of students come to campus from all over the world. But even if students falsify their vaccination status, they may have limited impact, He said.

“I think the number of students who would falsify their certificates it would be so small it wouldn’t affect our ability to get good community immunity, “Orman said.

A federal crime

In March, concerns about fake COVID-19 vaccination cards prompted the FBI to issue a joint statement with the US Department of Health and Human Services in which people were urged not to buy, create or sell manufactured vaccination cards.

Unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency such as HHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is a federal crime which carries a possible fine and a maximum of five years in prison.

In April, a bipartisan coalition of 47 state attorneys general sent a letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Shopify, and eBay asking them to remove the ads or links that were selling the fake cards.

In forums, chats and the dark web

Many of the sites have blacklisted keywords related to fake cards, but places to buy the documents keep popping up on messaging apps, chat forums, and the dark web.

Vendors on websites like Counterfeit Center, Jimmy Black Market, and Buy Express Documents sell COVID-19 vaccine cards, certificates, and passports, some of which cost 400 euros or almost 500 dollars.

An advertisement on the website Buy Real Fake Passport says sellers can produce fake vaccination cards thousands, if not tens of thousands, depending on demand.

“It hides right under our noses. If you want it, you can find it“says Saoud Khalifah, founder and CEO of Fakespot scam detection software.” If we’re seeing signs that shows like Lollapalooza and other festivals are getting bogus entry cards, the trend is going to continue at these universities. “

In July, the US Department of Justice announced its first federal criminal prosecution for fraud in connection with a bogus COVID-19 immunization and vaccination card scheme. Juli A. Mazi, 41, a naturopathic physician from Napa, California, was arrested and charged with one count of wire fraud and another of false statements related to health issues.

Court documents allege that he sold fake vaccination cards to customers who appeared to show they had received Moderna vaccines.

In some cases, documents show that Mazi herself completed the cards, writing her own name and so-called Moderna “lot numbers” for a vaccine that she had not actually administered.

For other clients, he delivered CDC COVID-19 vaccination record certificates in white and told each client to write that they had administered a Modern vaccine with a specific lot number.

Demanding vaccination to attend classes in colleges and universities became a controversial political issue in some states.

Public universities in at least 13 states, including Ohio, Utah, Tennessee, and Florida, they cannot demand legally vaccination against COVID-19 due to state legislation, but private institutions in those same states, yes they can.

Among states that introduce and pass bills that prohibit educational institutions from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, the infringement of individual rights or freedoms it is often cited as the primary concern.

However, according to a statement published by the Association for the Health of American Universities and other educational organizations, these restrictions prevent universities from being able to function fully and safely.

“The science of good public health has been lost in some of the decisions made in some places,” Orman said. “It was not always upheld by our political leaders.”

Some college students have taken to social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok to express your outrage for the possession of fraudulent vaccination cards by other students.

Maliha Reza, an electrical engineering student at Pennsylvania State University, said it’s terrible for students to pay for fake vaccination cards when can get vaccinated against COVID-19 at no cost.

“I’m angry about it, angrier than I could describe right now,” Reza said. “It is silly taking into account that the vaccine is free and accessible throughout the country. “It also saves lives.

Associated Press

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