As the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads all over United States, a growing number of colleges and universities require proof of the Covid-19 vaccine for students to attend face-to-face classes.
However, the mandatory requirement has opened the door for those opposed to receiving the vaccine to mislead the system, according to interviews with students, education and law enforcement officials.
Both teachers and students at dozens of schools interviewed by The Associated Press say they are concerned about how easy it is to obtain fake vaccination cards.
Across the internet, a cottage industry has sprung up to accommodate people who say they will not get vaccinated for personal or religious reasons.
An Instagram account with the username “Vaccination cards” sells laminated vaccination cards COVID-19 for $ 25 each.
A user of the encrypted messaging application, Telegram, offers “COVID-19 vaccine card certificates”, for up to $ 200 each.
“This is our own way of saving as many people as possible from the poisonous vaccine,” it is read in the seller’s message, seen by at least 11,000 users of the application.
An increasing number of inquiries on these sites and others like them seem to come from those who are trying to obtain fake vaccination cards for college.
A Reddit user commented in a thread about fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, saying: “I also need one for college. I refuse to be a guinea pig”.
On Twitter, a user with more than 70,000 followers tweeted: “My daughter bought 2 fake IDs online for $ 50 while she was in college. Shipped from China. Does anyone have the link for the immunization cards?”
According to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 664 colleges and universities now require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The process to confirm vaccination in many schools can be as simple as uploading a photo of the vaccination card to the student portal.
In Nashville, Vanderbilt University retains a student’s course record until their immunization record has been verified, unless they have an approved medical accommodation or religious exemption.
The University of Michigan says it has a system to confirm vaccinations for employees and students.
A university spokesperson told the Globe Live Media that the school has not had a problem so far with students falsifying their COVID-19 immunization record cards.
But Benjamin Mason Meier, a professor of global health policy at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, questions how institutions can verify those records.
“The United States, unlike most countries that have electronic systems, bases its vaccination on a flimsy paper card”, he said.
Meier tweeted last week that he spoke to several students who were concerned about the accessibility of fraudulent vaccine cards and who knew of a fellow student who had sent one to college.
“It is necessary that there are policies of responsibility to ensure that each student operates in the collective interest of the entire campus”, he said.
In a statement to the Globe Live Media, UNC said that the institution conducts a periodic verification of documents and that lying about vaccination status or falsifying documents is a violation of community standards and may result in disciplinary action.
“It is important to note that UNC-Chapel Hill has not found any instance of a student carrying a fake vaccination card. Those claims are just hearsay at this point.” The school said.
But other staff members and university professors have raised concerns about the alleged falsification of vaccine cards.
Rebecca Williams, a research associate at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said that while these statements worry her, they are not surprising.
“That is why I believe that the development of a reliable national digital vaccine passport application is very important for the good of all organizations and companies that want to require proof of vaccination for employees, students or business customers.” Williams said.
The Globe Live Media spoke with several students across the country who did not want to be identified, but said they were also aware of attempts to obtain fake cards.
Some school officials recognize that it is impossible to have a foolproof system.
“As with anything that potentially requires certification, there is the possibility that a person may falsify the documentation,” said Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the California State University Chancellor’s Office. The school system, which is the largest in the country, supervises about 486,000 students each year on 23 campuses.
Dr. Sarah Van Orman, director of health at the University of Southern California and member of the COVID-19 task force from the American College Health Association, said college campuses are especially challenging environments for controlling the spread of COVID-19 due to the tens of thousands of students moving to campus from around the world.
But if students falsify their vaccination status, he said it could have limited impact.
“I think the number of students who would do that would be so small that it wouldn’t affect our kind of ability to get good community immunity,” Orman said.
In March, the false COVID-19 vaccination cards prompted the FBI to issue a joint statement with the US Department of Health and Human Services urging people not to buy, create or sell manufactured vaccine cards.
Unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency such as HHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a federal crime that 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 to remove ads or links selling the fake cards.
Many of the sites have blacklisted keywords related to fake cards, but the places to buy the documents keep popping up on messaging apps, chat forums, and the dark web.
Sellers on websites like Counterfeit Center, Jimmy Black Market, and Buy Express Documents list COVID-19 vaccine cards, certificates and passports for sale, some costing around $473.49.
An ad on the Buy Real Fake Passport website says that sellers can produce fake vaccination cards in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, depending on the lawsuit.
“It hides under our noses. If you want, you can find out”, said Saoud Khalifah, founder and CEO of Fakespot scam detection software.
“If we see signs that things like Lollapalooza and other festivals are getting fake cards to gain entry, the trend will continue at these colleges,” precise Caliph.
In July, the US Department of Justice announced its first federal prosecution for criminal fraud involving a bogus COVID-19 vaccination and vaccination card scheme.
Juli A. Mazi, 41, a naturopathic physician in Napa, California, was arrested and charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters.
Court documents allege that she sold fake vaccination cards to customers who appeared to show they had received Moderna vaccines.
In some cases, documents show that Mazi herself filled out the cards, wrote her own name, and made assumptions of “Lot numbers” of Moderna for a vaccine that she had not in fact administered.
For other customers, she provided a blank COVID-19 vaccination record card and told each client to write that they have administered a Moderna vaccine with a specific lot number.
Requiring vaccinations to attend classes at colleges and universities has become a contentious political issue in some states.
Public universities in at least 13 states, including Ohio, Utah, Tennessee, and Florida, cannot legally require COVID-19 vaccines due to state law, but private institutions in those same states can.
Among states that introduce and pass bills that prohibit educational institutions from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, the infringement of individual rights or freedoms is often cited as the main concern.
But according to a statement issued by the American College Health Association and other educational organizations, these restrictions impede the ability of universities to operate fully and safely.
“The science of good public health has been lost in some of the decisions that have been made in some places,” Orman said. “It has not always been stopped by our political leaders,” Orman added.
Some college students have taken to social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok to express outrage at other students possessing fraudulent vaccine cards.
Maliha Reza, an electrical engineering student at Pennsylvania State University, said it’s amazing that students pay for fake vaccination cards when they can get the COVID-19 vaccine without cost.
“I’m angry about that as if there is more anger than I could describe right now,” Reza said. “It’s silly considering that the vaccine is free and accessible throughout the country,” he claimed.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.