Fake Vaccination Cards Are Nothing New

The Washington Post reported today that three state troopers from Vermont (a state with one of the highest vaccination rates against COVID-19 in the nation) faked their COVID-19 vaccination cards:

“Three Vermont state troopers have resigned after they were accused of being involved in a scheme to create fake coronavirus vaccination cards in the nation’s most vaccinated state, the state police announced Tuesday.

Shawn Sommers and Raymond Witkowski resigned Aug. 10, a day after a colleague raised concerns about the alleged fraud to supervisors, while David Pfindel’s resignation took effect Friday after an investigation by Vermont’s Department of Public Safety, according to a police statement. Authorities said the three men, who were reported to supervisors by their fellow troopers, “are suspected of having varying roles in the creation of fraudulent covid-19 vaccination cards, which may be a violation of federal law.”

The Vermont State Police said they were unable to announce the resignations before Tuesday, or provide any additional details about the case, because the FBI is investigating the matter. It remains unclear why and for whom the troopers allegedly made the fake cards.

Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, said the accusations against the officers “involve an extraordinary level of misconduct.” He added that he is “embarrassed” about a situation that has tarnished the department’s reputation.”

“State troopers accused of making fake vaccination cards resign after colleagues turn them in” THE WASHINGTON POST, SEPTEMBER 9, 2021

This incident comes on the heel of several high-profile arrests in schemes to sell fake COVID-19 vaccine cards or to use fake cards to gain entry into vacation places. Last month, a woman from Illinois was arrested in Hawaii after attempting to gain entry into the state with a fake card. Earlier this month, an online personality sold fake vaccine cards to healthcare workers seeking them to avoid getting the vaccine while meeting work requirements to show proof of vaccination. According to reports, the woman was not shy about announcing her intentions on social media and advertising the cards for sale at $200 each. Not only that, but she also recruited at least one person working at a physician’s office to fraudulently enter people’s names into the online vaccine registry.

Proof of vaccination for travel, to access places or for work/school admission, are nothing new. Time Magazine online wrote about the first instances of “vaccination passports”:

“The year was 1885. U.S. border officials in the late 19th century did not expect travelers to carry the identification documents that international transit requires today—but they did often require passengers to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated from smallpox. Whether at ports of entry including New York’s Ellis Island and San Francisco’s Angel Island, or along the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico, officials expected border-crossers to prove their immunity. As an El Paso newspaper put it in 1910, travelers needed to show one of three things: “A vaccination certificate, a properly scarred arm, or a pitted face” indicating that they had survived smallpox.”

The U.S. Has Had ‘Vaccine Passports’ Before—And They Worked

Fake vaccine certificates are nothing new, either. Countries in Africa have long had an issue with fake certificates of yellow fever vaccination.A While some countries have battled those counterfeit hard copies with electronic registries, that technology is not widely available to all nations. However, the World Health Organization is attempting to make electronic certificates more user-friendly and implemented by more governments around the world.

During the global measles epidemics of 2018 and 2019, fake measles vaccination certificates were also used to bypass government orders to vaccinate children. In Ukraine, where the epidemic was quite severe, fake measles vaccine certificates were obtained by many parents, even in populations where vaccine support was high.

It is important to note that falsifying vaccination records in the United States is a crime with serious penalties at the local, state, and federal level. Because of the increasing number of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards being distributed, the Federal Bureau of Investigations has reminded the public that the CDC cards given out with the vaccines are federal forms, and falsifying them is a serious federal crime.

A. The yellow fever vaccination certificate loophole in nigeria.(2019). The Lancet, 394(10194), 203-204. doi:http://dx.doi.org.mutex.gmu.edu/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31670-8

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen