Vaccine fraud: Fake certificates put inoculation drive in jeopardy
Major cities report citizens colluding with officials to forge proof of vaccination under immunisation exigencies
LAHORE/ KARACHI/ PESHAWAR:
After surviving three successive waves of the novel coronavirus, the fourth spell, harbingering the highly transmissible Delta variant, has left the government scrambling to maintain stricter viral protocols.
This includes an emergency escalation of the nationwide inoculation campaign, where immediate vaccination has been made mandatory for all public and private sector employees, in addition to those wanting to travel.
However, the exigencies of immunisation appear to have opened a new can of worms, as reports of fake vaccination certificates begin to surface across the country. Experts fear, that if left unattended, this could be the hole that ultimately sinks the ship of Pakistan’s fight against Covid-19.
In view of said reports, authorities have taken action against more than four health department employees in Lahore and Shahdara, while also cancelling certificates found to be illegally issued.
Although investigations are still underway, sources claim that those apprehended in Lahore may face legal charges under the Punjab Employee Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability (PEDA) Act.
According to whistleblowers on microblogging site Twitter, immunisation certificates can be forged for anywhere between Rs2,000 to Rs10,000 at major government hospitals, depending on the value of the vaccine.
Some forgers, allegedly associated with the vaccination drive, have also taken to WhatsApp and other social media services to market their business. “Without any dose [sic.] Corona vaccination registration available verified by 1166,” advertised once such service in a screenshot circulating on the internet.
Explaining the protocols of fake vaccination, a source privy to the matter said that dubious vaccinators have citizens fill a standard form that one would fill at any authentic vaccination centre. “Quite like the actual vaccination process, they also note the patient’s vitals and conduct necessary checkups.
However, the final phase of vaccine administration is skipped, while the data is fictitiously fed in the record system,” he told.
Similar cases have however also been observed in district Mardan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), where experts believe vaccination forgery to be jeopardaising the province’s efforts towards mass inoculation.
“This is more than alarming—really serious,” warned a senior health official privy to the development.
The official who was not authorized to communicate with the media alleged that despite the entire government machinery being praised for its vaccination efforts, forged data in the system is quietly sabotaging the entire campaign.
Two school teachers in the district were recently caught evading the vaccination process by skipping the jab desk and directly approaching the registration staff upon acquiring their token from the vaccination centre.
“Both culprits, showing as vaccinated in the system are currently held in custody and being investigated for vaccination fraud,” told an official involved in the probe.
Certain health department officials however deemed the case a non-issue. Claiming that a handful such anomalies among hundreds of successful vaccinations has no bearing on the province’s overall vaccination drive.
“The government is currently satisfied with the process, and data highlighting the quantity of people being vaccinated is being shared on daily basis,” asserted one official on conditions of anonymity.
On the other hand, Health Services Acting Director Dr Niaz, who objected the unnamed official’s claim was of the view that unchecked forgery in the inoculation process could potentially damage the entire campaign.
“But so far, the department has only come across a few such cases, so it is too early to address issuing fake registration certificates on a mass levels,” he added.
Karachi, which has emerged as the national epicentre of the more threatening Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, has also become an emerging hub of vaccine falsification.
The first case of the nature came to light on June 14, when dozens of people were found to have acquired fake vaccination cards from the city’s biggest government vaccination facility at the Karachi Expo Centre.
The incident was reported in the media, following which the police arrested and registered FIRs against a gang of paramedics and nurses involved in forgery.
The case registered at Karachi’s Aziz Bhatti Police Station revealed that the gang also included an information technology expert, who was responsible for hacking into and altering data in the vaccination system.
Later on July 25, two suspects were also arrested from Karachi’s high profile neighbourhood of Defense, where the culprits had been illegally vaccinating people in their homes in exchange of money.
According to an official of the city’s director of health, a doctor in the centeral district had tipped the secretary of health about unofficial vaccinations in a written complaint, as early as May of 2021.
The complaint alleged that some vaccinators in the district had come together to form an organised group responsible for issuing vaccines to homes, among which were also vaccinators involved in document duplicity.
An inquiry was launched into the incident and a report was submitted to the department identifying the culprits but the department failed to take any action against those involved.
The remiss, claimed the official, has encouraged the formation of other such groups involved in vaccination fraud, now also spanning to other districts of the city.
Where there is little control being observed in Karachi, an official of the Punjab health department claimed that they’re aware of the issue and are taking steps to secure authenticity of vaccination data in the province.
“Data being fed to the NADRA database is being double-checked and reconciled with the health authorities to ensure that no one has made any bogus entries,” affirmed a spokesperson of the health department.
Speaking further, he said that authorities had reprimanded 18 vaccinators reportedly involved accepting bribes for documented forgery.
“Since then, only genuine entries are being made in the computer system for vaccinations done across the 36 districts of Punjab,” asserted the health department spokesperson while speaking to The Express Tribune.