A worrying story emerged from Lahore regarding the anti-Covid ‘vaccination’ of former PM Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz has been in the UK since November 2019, yet he somehow managed — according to government records — to get vaccinated earlier this week. The obviously fake data entry has prompted an inquiry and raised concerns over the damage the incident could do to Pakistan’s image abroad, including for Pakistani expats, and even the quality of the rest of the government’s vaccination records.
While announcing the inquiry, the Punjab government offered a limited defence by reminding that fake Covid-19 vaccination records are a global problem. That’s true, but several countries where fake vaccine records are a problem are not reliant on remittances to keep their economies afloat. Meanwhile, the most widely used vaccines in Pakistan are not even accepted by several countries where Pakistani expats work. Suspicion over Pakistan vaccination documents could create further problems for expat workers.
On and off the record, health officials have stressed that only a handful of forgery cases have emerged so far. Meanwhile, local authorities already have and hopefully will continue to prosecute people involved in falsifying documents. But the damage has been done. While we cannot place blame solely on any particular government body or political party — document forgery has a long history in Pakistan — for the same reason, we would have hoped that better preemptive measures were taken.
Indeed, it was not until August, several months after vaccination began, that the government introduced its vaccination pass app. Even then, there are claims on social media that a fake certificate can be obtained for anywhere between Rs2,000 and Rs10,000, depending on the brand of vaccine, and that the record will pass government verification. There have also been cases of people trying to ‘outsmart’ the health bureaucracy sans bribes. In one case, two schoolteachers were caught after taking tokens at a vaccination centre and then trying to go straight to the registration desk without getting the jab first.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2021.
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