Counterfeit Vaccine Passports Increasing With Restrictions

Christian Beneker

September 23, 2021

As more German states opt to implement optional "2G" rules — regulations that allow businesses to admit only those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 — vaccine contrarians are increasingly turning to counterfeit vaccine passports.

For months now, social networks and messaging services have been circulating offers for vaccine passports that include COVID-19 vaccinations, said a spokesperson of the Osnabrück Police Department.

Police officers in Berlin discovered a series of counterfeit vaccine documents during a traffic inspection; in Duisburg, police are investigating reports that these passports are now being offered in the city; and a doctor in Goslar discovered blank counterfeit vaccination documents back in April, according to a report by the public radio and television broadcaster, Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

People are bringing counterfeit ID cards into pharmacies to have them digitized by QR code, which effectively launders the counterfeit IDs. This means pharmacy employees have to scrutinize ID cards for fakes. In fact, it is usually pharmacists who notice the counterfeits, said the Osnabrück Police Department spokesperson, who added that numerous fraud and forgery investigations have been initiated with potential legal consequences.

"High Numbers of Unreported Cases Assumed"

Precise figures from the police crime statistics are currently not available because police investigations of the cases in question are ongoing. "The present database is therefore not conclusive and is subject to continuous changes," the Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office (LKA) told Medscape Medical News.

"In Lower Saxony, a mean double-digit number of counterfeit vaccine passports has been found so far in 2021 (from January 2021 up to and including August 2021)," the office added. "This includes blank vaccine passports and total counterfeits. Vaccine passports are relatively easy to falsify, which is why a high number of unreported cases can be assumed."

Incomplete vaccine passports — which are used in medical practices and vaccination centers to document administered vaccinations — are easy to get on the internet from various providers for as little as $0.90 per unit. The acquisition of blank passports is not illegal, the LKA emphasized.

"The vaccine passport only becomes a document when a doctor enters vaccinations in it, according to the Infection Protection Act," explained Sigrid Ley-Köllstadt, MD, from the German Green Cross, which issues vaccine passports.

The matter becomes illegal if, for example, the counterfeiters copy the practice stamp and forge the vignette for the vaccine, the stamp, and the signature.

Apparently "forged documents cost around €200 on the internet," Ley-Köllstadt told Medscape Medical News.

Use or Distribution of Counterfeits Liable to Prosecution

The use of counterfeit vaccine passports, in addition to the production and distribution, is punishable by law, the LKA pointed out. "Appropriate investigation proceedings will be initiated immediately when [cases] become known," they explained.

However, not every counterfeit vaccine passport is a forgery, according to ARAG, a service provider for legal expense insurance. An authorized person, such as a family doctor, can issue a vaccine passport even if he or she has not administered the documented vaccination, according to the ARAG website.

The federal government has expanded the Infection Protection Act (IfSG) to include new criminal provisions. Since June, the following applies: "Anyone who knowingly fails to properly document a vaccination against the coronavirus or a test result must expect a fine or imprisonment of up to 2 years. And anyone who knowingly uses falsely issued certificate faces imprisonment of up to 1 year or a fine," the ARAG reports. "A visit to the restaurant can therefore be expensive."

Ley-Köllstadt has disclosed no relevant financial relationships

This article originally appeared in the German edition of Medscape. 

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