Compulsory Covid-19 vaccination will worsen fake card racketeering in Nigeria

[By VICTOR NZE]

Plans by the Federal Government to prosecute people who refuse to take the Covid-19 vaccines, as well as, the mulled directive to compel all federal civil servants under its employment may inadvertently serve to drive the fake vaccination card racket business presently thriving in black markets across the country.

Covid-19 vaccination in Nigeria

The trend is not just present in Nigeria, but also across the world where residents are seemingly deploying unwholesome tactics to avoid being administered with the vaccine in the face of policies enacted by their various governments to compel them to get the procedure in order to check the spread of the virus and by extension save more lives lost to the pandemic.

Many experts have posited that enlightenment and re-orientation in the face of the spreading misinformation among the populace remain the safest option to checking the spread of covid-19 and getting the people to take the vaccine which ultimately lowers the heavy toll of casualties suffered by countries across the world in the battle against the virus.

Already, card racketeering has been recorded in Edo and Bauchi states where residents in order to beat state government directives on forced vaccination have resorted to seeking fake or counterfeit vaccinations cards.

Faking a vaccination card is relatively easy as the document is not digitized, like most identification cards. The green cardboard-made cards are handwritten, a situation which many health experts and other say serves as good reason for government to focus on improved enlightenment rather than forced vaccination of its citizens.

Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib

It would be recalled that Federal Government had disclosed that it is considering prosecuting Nigerians who deliberately refuse to be administered with the Covid-19 vaccines.

A statement issued by the COVID-19 Taskforce on Tuesday, August 31, quoted the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, as saying that government may ‘apply the basic rule of law’ against such people because they are endangering the lives of other people.

“If some individuals refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine, hence, endangering those who have or those who could not due to medical exemptions, then we have to apply the basic rule of law which stipulates that your human right stops where mine begins.

“So, you have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others.

“The Presidential Steering Committee and the Federal Ministry of Health is exploring ways of making vaccines more available to all Nigerians including federal civil servants and corporate entities.

“Once these vaccines are made equitably available to all Nigerians, then we would need to have a frank discussion about justice, fairness, and liberty that exist around vaccine hesitancy.”

Two days later, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman Presidential Steering Committee, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said Federal Government will make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for all federal civil servants in the country.

Mustapha who made the disclosure at the Nigeria Health Commissioners Forum meeting in Abuja, last Thursday, said that federal civil servants are representatives of the government and could be assigned to represent the government sometimes and hence they need to be vaccinated.

“Well, the vaccine mandate will come. The world is gravitating towards that direction. I can tell you by the time the western world vaccinate their people, you can’t get into any of the western countries without the vaccine certificate. So, its better we begin to prepare our people at home,” Mustapha said.

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Mustapha who said government will first make the vaccines available before imposing the mandate, also disclosed that the government was building oxygen plants across Nigeria, just as he urged state Commissioners to provide extensive leadership in their states.

Similarly, the Ondo Government has actually given civil servants in the state two weeks to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The directive which was contained in a circular by Permanent Secretary, Service Matters, O.J. Afolabi, and issued Friday, asked civil servants to ensure that they receive the COVID vaccine if they have already not done so.

Afolabi added that after the grace period, workers will expect to present their vaccination cards to access some government facilities.

“The Ondo state government has made COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for all workers in the state,” the statement read.

Many people who have till date refused to take the vaccine base their opinions on non-scientifically proven findings and claims about the vaccines, which should rather be addressed first by government before a forced vaccination policy is enacted in the country.

It would be recalled that NPHCDA though its Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, last Monday, had responded to the spate of misinformation and disinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines, as it said that the agency will not join issues ‘with individuals who would rather concoct misinformation that could negatively affect the health of citizens.’

“This is because even acknowledging some of these falsehoods elevates and adds fuel to a raging flame that benefits only the perpetrator.

“Nevertheless, we are constrained by the volume of specific enquiries about a viral text message which purports that the US Supreme Court has cancelled universal vaccination.

“Let’s set the record straight and once again punch holes in the malicious intentions of anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists: The US Supreme Court has not “overturned universal vaccination” there is no record of such a case, and there is no such thing as “universal vaccination” in the US. So this is another case of “Fake News.”

 “This process can sometimes get things right, but it can also get things wrong, thereby producing rumours that turn out to be false. As Nigerians, when we hear or read information, we must always verify the credibility of the source, whether the information is internally consistent, and whether there is supporting evidence.

“Nigerians are encouraged to always reflect on the veracity of the claims they encounter. People need to understand that misinformation is fundamentally exploitative, it tries to use our religion, our patriotism, and our desire for justice to outrage us and dupe us into faulty reasoning.

“The false claims currently disseminated that Covid-19 vaccines are intended for genetic manipulations were similar to the claims that polio vaccines were intended to kill Muslims, but today, thanks to our resilience, solidarity and collective will, we have cause to celebrate our hard-won victory over wild polio virus in Nigeria,” Shuaib said.

According to him, vaccine was a reliable and proven tool for prevention and control of infectious diseases such as Covid-19.

“A vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to induce immune cells and proteins, called antibodies that confer immunity or protection against the disease.

“The mRNA technology used to develop the new Coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost two decades.

“Scientists developed the technology to help respond quickly to pandemics such as Covid-19. It is therefore ridiculous when the anti-vaccination campaigners claim that Covid-19 alters the human DNA or that people will die in two weeks or two years after vaccination.

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“Similar claims that polio vaccines were intended to cause infertility and kill our children, were made in the past but today, many of the children who received polio vaccine have grown to adulthood, become parents and are fulfilling their various dreams.

“No child in the country died of polio vaccination. It is therefore critically important for us all to always seek correct and accurate information about Covid-19 vaccines from reliable sources, so that we can be rightly guided to dispel fake news and misinformation from individuals or groups driven by mischief,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Bauchi, the directive by the state government to residents to take the vaccine has forced a boom in the fake or counterfeit card trading, as those engaged in it are making brisk business.

Confirming the development, the Bauchi State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (BSPHDA) recently uncovered a trend among wealthy residents who now resort to bribing vaccinators to issue them with COVID-19 Vaccination Card without even taking the vaccines.

Executive Chairman of  BSPHDA Dr Rilwamu Mohammed who disclosed this to participants at the Media Orientation Meeting on COVID-19 phase-2 Vaccination Exercise, last Wednesday in Bauchi, attributed the rejection to series of false, misleading and conspiracy theories, especially in the social media that the COVID-19 contain magnetic substances that killed people after two years of taken the vaccines.

Giving an update on the ongoing COVID-19 vaccinations across the state Mohammed explained that 2000 doses of the vaccines were sent to one of the local governments in the state but only 30 received the second dose of the vaccines and the majority of the people refused to avail themselves for the vaccination.

He explained the Taskforce Committee on COVID-19 and the agency had already launched an enlightenment campaign against the various misconception about the COVID-19 vaccine, adding that the agency has concluded plans to engaged Imams, pastors in the enlightenment campaign against the misconception about the COVID-19 vaccination.

“One of the health workers administering the vaccines reported that some privileged individuals are inducing them with money just to fill the vaccination card without taking the jab, but she has refused to be tempted and reported to the agency.

“The most disturbing part of the trend is some dignitaries are sending messages from Abuja to get the vaccination cards to them without taking the vaccines. We have already taken measures to tackle the problem and we will not allow the ugly trend in the state and everybody must take the jab before getting the cards,” Mohammed lamented.

In Edo State, reports suggest that the directive by Governor Godwin Obaseki that residents must be vaccinated and carry a vaccination card before being allowed access to public places, including churches, mosques, event centres and other places, as akin to ‘a decree.’

Already, this would amount to preparing grounds for black marketing of the vaccination card as brisk business is guaranteed for those who decide to venture into it, except the state government steps up enlightenment programmes geared towards changing the narrative and mindset of residents in the state.

However, it is believed that considering the nature of the vaccination card, counterfeiting it is now a problem, neither compromising staff of the NPHCDA or any of the primary healthcare development agencies in the state.

“It’s just a piece of cardboard with handwritten information which anyone can do in his room. It’s not like the National ID which is not handwritten. So how can you stop people faking it or even selling the fake ones.

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“This is even all the more reason why the task before the Federal and state governments should be enlightenment and correcting the misinformation, not compelling people to a forced vaccination, as they are planning to do,” said Mr Akin Adebayo, of the Alimosho General Hospital, in Igando, Lagos.

The problem is not peculiar to Nigeria and its citizens, however, as elsewhere people devise similar strategies to avoiding forced vaccination.

A flourishing black market for fake vaccination cards is set to have sprung up in major cities of the United States following the federal and states’ decision to compel their residents to vaccinate through restrictions and other policies put in place to ramp up vaccination.

As more people in the US are asked to prove they have been vaccinated in order to work, study or socialise, a flourishing black market in fake vaccination cards has sprung up.

Resistance to jabs and vaccine mandates is fierce in some parts of the United States, where only 60 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and typically driven by online disinformation and calls to protect civil liberties.

For $100 (£70), a fake card vendor would deliver a ‘registered’ card, with either the logo of the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) or Britain’s National Health Service.

Payment could be made in Apple Pay or Bitcoin and delivery would be “discrete” and within 24 hours, they promised.

“Your cards will be saved into the database system. [These are] very good original vaccine cards, no worries,” they revealed.

As the Delta variant of coronavirus sweeps the United States, businesses, universities and cities such as New York and San Francisco have introduced vaccine mandates to boost uptake of jabs.

However, vaccine hesitancy remains high and a cottage industry for bogus inoculation cards has emerged to help people get around the rules.

Fakes have been sold on platforms from eBay to Whatsapp and there have been high profile busts, with warnings that counterfeiters and buyers could face jail.

Yet users, authorities and many others are sceptical that the use of false cards can be stopped.

Last week, customs officials in Memphis, Tennessee and Anchorage, Alaska seized 6,000 false vaccination cards in separate shipments from China destined for recipients across the United States.

They were printed with the CDC logo and closely resembled the genuine cards given to US citizens when they get vaccinated. However, when officials looked closer they noticed spelling mistakes and poor printing quality.

The flourishing market has prompted warnings from the FBI that unauthorised use of a government agency’s seal is a crime and violators could face fines or up to five years in prison.

Bogus cards are easily available on social media, messaging apps and the dark web where they can be bought for anywhere between $25 (£18) and $500, according to reports.

On Instagram, accounts often promote fake cards alongside images featuring anti-vaccination slogans or disinformation about vaccine safety. Though, anyone buying, selling, or trading in fake, or genuine, medical documents on its platforms will be barred, Instagram has warned.

Some experts also posit that all proof-of-vaccination cards should be digital to stop fraud.

Such passes are planned or in use in the UK and Denmark, for example, but the US has no similar scheme.

Several digital vaccine apps are already available but only within New York City.

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