A screenshot from a social media group in Sudan containing an ad for a fake COVID19 vaccine certificate.
It is a well-known fact that whenever there is a law, there will be those who try to go around it and the times of COVID-19 are no exception.
The world went into a frenzy trying to adapt to the novel virus, from social distancing to lockdowns and then finally mandatory vaccination. All these efforts are aimed at mitigating the damages the pandemic caused, but when the world relaxed its restrictions and allowed travel it did it under the condition of vaccination proof in the form of a certificate.
In Sudan, vaccination certificates are issued by the state and further verified upon commencement of travel by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to regulate the infection levels worldwide. Nevertheless, what started as a means to help regulate travel in light of new circumstances became a trade, a getaway car from social responsibility, and discourse around authority and bodily autonomy.
So why is it a big deal that some people use fake cards? The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threaten the health of the masses, slow progress in getting people protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many countries.
In an effort to bring the spirit of debate and better understand the machinations of the fake medical reports trade, we met up with Mr. M.A.A who insisted on keeping this interview incognito in exchange for allowing us behind the scenes while having an open mind to process the dissenting opinion.
A fake COVID19 test result being exposed. Source: www.blog.checkpoint.com/
Andariya: We must address the elephant in the room. It is only a small needle, why do people go for a fake vaccination certificate?
M.A.A: To simply put it, they want to skip the messy bits! It is safe and better for your health if you just take the vaccine, but some prefer to shorten the process for themselves and some are quite frankly just terrified of the needle.
Andariya: So you are of the opinion that the COVID-19 vaccine is in fact safe?
M.A.A: Yes! I was a bit skeptical when it was authorized very quickly, but I read about the experiences of those who took it and I rarely heard about side effects.
Andariya: The vaccines were authorized quickly because the virus itself belongs to a family of viruses that have been studied before. So there is background information about it, which made the manufacturing and testing process more rapid.
M.A.A: It is interesting to know this! To me as someone who works in an industry that caters to people's whims rather than studied decisions, I thought it was a matter of matching the market demand.
Andariya: Big pharma companies do make money from vaccination, but their main aim is mitigating a health problem, therefore they won't make a vaccine just because it's in demand.
M.A.A: Yes, that is true, but I think this concept is not understood very well. In times of economic crisis, it is difficult to preach what society needs from individuals or corporations.
Andariya: The root to monitoring social responsibility is through governance on the macro scale and individual sense of duty towards communities on the micro scale, do you agree with this statement?
M.A.A: Absolutely! The absence of both is the reason why my industry exists in the first place.
Andariya: Can you walk us through the history of fake vaccination certificates?
M.A.A: Well in Sudan, it truly started when certain vaccines for diseases like measles, chickenpox and polio became mandatory before admitting children to schools. Even though it can be offered freely at health centers, many parents opt not to vaccinate their children- whether it's because they heard a rumor that vaccines cause permanent damage or simply because they do not want to. They come to us for fake vaccination cards so that their kids can enroll in school.
Then when yellow fever broke out in many countries, vaccination proof was required so many people started asking for fake cards in order to travel. This is especially prevalent as most of these people are late to finalize their travel documents and they neglect the vaccination.
Andariya: Do your clients fret over the fact they might get infected with COVID-19 at any time?
M.A.A: Yes. Most of them do, but they are in some sort of plausible denial about it.
Andariya: What about fake COVID test results, what is your stance on them?
M.A.A: I don't recommend them, especially if you are carrying the virus but with no symptoms and you aim to travel, you will infect your fellow passengers and your loved ones. It has become a bit challenging because you can now easily be netted and exposed because temperature tests are now almost everywhere, in addition to rapid COVID testing which gives the results almost immediately.
Andariya: During the lockdown in Sudan, the authorities closed off bridges, and implemented curfews to curtail movements and ensure social distancing, there were special conditions permits as well, but after a while forged ones appeared, it was definitely funny yet simultaneously sad to see human nature in full force. Your thoughts?
M.A.A: I think people will always try to repel you when you restrict their freedom even if it was for their own benefit.
Andariya: The wild part was that some even hired ferries to transport people discreetly through the Nile between the three cities of our triangle capital. Did you hear about that?
M.A.A: Yes, and I was not surprised. If one is okay with jeopardizing their health, drowning in the Nile to beat a curfew is no big feat.
Andariya: The fake permits were eventually caught on, as well as the fake certificates and test results with digital authentication, QR code scans, and inspections, can we say the industry will be dwindling?
M.A.A: Fortunately for the world but unfortunately for those in it, yes it is dwindling but just like COVID had variants, the market will always find a way around new and improved restrictions.
Senator Rex Patrick from Australia forged his own COVID-19 vaccination certificate in an effort to expose flaws in its design. Source: ABC News, Matthew Doran
Andariya: if we call the fake vaccination cards industry a virus what is the antidote to it?
M.A.A: combating rumors about vaccinations' side effects, understanding that your freedom stops when it's at the expense of another.
Andariya: So a collective work between the state and the individual, I would also add that the bureaucracy of governmental institutions might tempt those in a hurry to travel to just forge a certificate.
M.A.A: Yes absolutely, it does deter many people from taking the vaccine since they only wanted to take it so they can travel. A delay in getting the certificate will kill the motivation and force them to find alternatives.
Andariya: Finally, can we curb human nature with laws and restrictions?
M.A.A: Yes, people will be people, but awareness can help shift the narrative and tip the scales.
Digital solutions have been a recurring theme in the pandemic response, and are regularly proposed as a route to minimize fraud in the vaccine certification process. However, the rise in cyber-crime increases the risks of an over-reliance on these technologies, potentially allowing criminals to infiltrate the COVID-19 vaccine certification space. While QR codes with digital signatures make it far more difficult to falsify vaccine certificates, they are not entirely foolproof.
The former Financial Secretary, Khadir Hussein Merghani who also owns a travel agency is displeased with the behavior of forging certificates and is worried that this could overturn the gains already made in curbing the pandemic.
“Some unscrupulous people think that forging certificates is a lucrative business. Such exploitative behaviors are expected as some individuals and groups will try to take advantage of the crisis for their personal gain. As individuals, we must prioritize our collective well-being over monetary gains,” Khadir noted.
In times like these, it is prudent that one not only looks after themselves by ensuring the maximum level of protection with vaccination and precautions, but also educate others on the importance of trusting the process and that no travel is more important than the health of the masses.