With COVID-19 cases surging across the country, universities and employers have begun attempting to crack down on vaccine requirements. Although this signals a step in the right direction, the increasing number of fake credentials being used to cheat a verified vaccination status could very well land us right back where we started, or worse.
Fake vaccination cards are not new in regard to this pandemic; a public service announcement about the illegality of fake cards was released by the FBI in March, near the time the vaccine was approved for the majority of adult individuals in New Mexico, proving that for as long as any place has required a COVID-19 vaccine, people have found ways to produce or procure counterfeit documents.
This progression is concerning to say the least. I’ve tried to stay relatively optimistic during the pandemic, and my attitude was starting to seem justified as UNM announced their plans for mask and vaccine requirements. But this relief has been countered by the delta variant surge and more public resistance to getting the vaccine than I anticipated.
Benjamin Mason Meier, a global health policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed grave concern over the accessibility of fake vaccine cards. On Aug. 2, Meier wrote on Twitter that he spoke to worried students, each of whom said they “knew exactly how to buy a fake #COVID19Vaccine card & knew a fellow student who submitted one to (UNC).” This worry is not limited to UNC, as I fear fellow students at UNM could easily produce fake documents and endanger other students and faculty on campus.
When school starts and the weather begins to cool down, more and more of us are going to be congregating indoors; this wasn’t worrying to me at all a few weeks ago as I had already been fully vaccinated, COVID-19 rates were dropping off and New Mexico wasn’t in a danger zone of elevated cases.
Now, however, the delta variant has taken hold and cases in New Mexico are on the rise (including a limited number of breakthrough cases). Fake credentials could easily cause us to slip down into yet another period of unprecedented cases, rising deaths and online classes.
In terms of the vaccine proof itself, it’s based on a measly index card that’s easily replicable. Not only that but, in today’s society, verification of physical papers is endlessly difficult.
“The United States, unlike most countries which have electronic systems in place, is basing its vaccination on a flimsy paper card,” Meier said to the Associated Press.
Cybersecurity expert Maya Levine predicts an increase in purchases of fake vaccination cards online, through sites like Whatsapp and Telegram.
"For those people who are adamant against being vaccinated, they're finding opportunities in not being limited in what they can do while still not getting vaccinated through buying these fake vaccination certificates," Levine said to ABC 7 News.
While this all may be incredibly discouraging, a large number of people have a more logical approach to fake vaccine cards. Twitter user Breion Brown posted earlier this month: “Why y’all buying fake vaccination cards for $500 when the vaccine is FREE?,” a question which has gotten widespread attention that certainly sparks hope in me.
It all comes down to efficacy. If universities can take the steps to implement serious consequences for vaccination status forgery as well as work on an effective way to verify cards, then this would hardly be an issue. However, because universities are still relying on just paper vaccine cards alone (for those who are even requiring the vaccine), fully vaccinated students, staff and faculty are still in danger as the fall semester begins. As it stands, we’re all in for a bumpy road ahead.
Emma Trevino is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @itsemmatr