Federal officials this week warned that it is “a crime” to falsify COVID-19 vaccination cards amid new restrictions handed down by several major cities.
“We are aware of some cases of fraud or counterfeit COVID-19 cards being advertised on social media sites and e-commerce platforms, while the practice is not widespread,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said during a COVID-19 White House virtual briefing.
Zients added that “it’s a crime,” and that the “Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating these schemes.”
Previously, the FBI and other federal agencies said anyone who is buying or selling fake vaccine cards could face penalties.
On Thursday, Zients said that the federal government is not planning to create a centralized database that holds individuals’ vaccination records.
“There will be no federal vaccination database. As with all other vaccines, the information gets held at the state and local level,” he said. “But any system that is developed in the private sector or elsewhere must meet key standards, including affordability, being available both digitally and on paper and importantly, protecting people’s privacy and security.”
In recent days, as New York City and some European countries announced they would mandate vaccine passports at certain businesses starting next month, there has been a surge in fake vaccination cards in both the United States and the EU.
“As a segment of the population tries to avoid the new measures, the darknet reacts to the real market and thus demand gives birth to offers,” Dmitry Galov, a researcher at cybersecurity company Kaspersky, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, referring to the fake vaccine cards.
And a DOJ spokesman told news outlets, similarly, that “while we do not have definitive numbers, we are seeing more of these types of schemes recently.”
Benjamin Mason Meier, a global health policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said it will be difficult for businesses or some agencies to verify whether a card is real. After New York City officials last week announced it will require restaurants, cafes, bars, theaters, and gyms to verify whether a customer is vaccinated, it’s not clear how a small business would enforce such a rule and verify that a vaccine card is authentic.
“The United States, unlike most countries which have electronic systems in place, is basing its vaccination on a flimsy paper card,” he said. “There needs to be policies in place for accountability to make sure that every student is operating in the collective interest of the entire campus,” he said of universities.