Fri. Sep 17th, 2021

A online-based cottage industry in the United States has sprung up to accommodate people who say they won’t get vaccinated for either personal or religious reasons.

Vaccination cards are pictured at a rural coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination site in Columbus, New Mexico, U.S., April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Ratje

An Instagram account with the username “vaccinationcards” sells laminated vaccination cards for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) for $25 each. A user on the encrypted messaging app, Telegram, offers “COVID-19 Vaccine Cards Certificates,” for as much as $200 apiece.

An increasing number of inquiries to these sites and similar ones appear to be from those who are trying to get fake vaccination cards for college.

A Reddit user commented on a thread about falsifying Covid-19 vaccination cards, saying, in part, “I need one, too, for college. I refuse to be a guinea pig.”

According to a tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, at least 675 colleges and universities now require proof of Covid-19 inoculations. The process to confirm vaccination at many schools can be as simple as uploading a picture of the vaccine card to the student’s portal.

In Nashville, Vanderbilt University places a hold on a student’s course registration until their vaccine record has been verified unless they have an approved medical accommodation or religious exemption.

The University of Michigan says it has checks in place to confirm employee and student vaccinations. A spokesman said the school has not encountered any problems so far with students forging their Covid-19 vaccination record cards.

But Benjamin Mason Meier, a global health policy professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, questions how institutions can verify those records.

“The United States, unlike most countries which have electronic systems in place, is basing its vaccination on a flimsy paper card,” he said. “There need to be policies in place for accountability to make sure that every student is operating in the collective interest of the entire campus.

For its part, UNC said the institution conducts periodic verification of documents and that lying about vaccination status or falsifying documents is a violation of the university’s standards and may result in disciplinary action. The school said it had not found any instances of a student uploading a fake vaccine card.

But other university staff and faculty have expressed their concern. Rebecca Williams, a research associate at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said while she is concerned by these claims, she isn’t surprised.

“This is why I think the development of a reliable national digital vaccine passport app is very important for the sake of all the organizations and businesses that want to require proof of vaccination for employees, students, or business patrons,” Williams said.

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