Vincentians are said to be paying as much as $1500 for fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates in order to secure employment; a situation described by one employer as “highly dangerous”.
“It is highly dangerous in the tourism sector because if you come to me for employment and you bring a vaccination card and it’s fake, next thing you know, you have a serious case of COVID that you pass on to one of my guests, I could be in trouble. My hotel will be shut down for a while and that is serious,” the businessman said.
He told SEARCHLIGHT that the existence of fake vaccination certificates also raises the issue of trust and confidence.
“You are forcing me now to take draconian measures. Even though you have your vaccination card, I might be sceptical and still want to have you tested regularly as it raises serious doubts about who is who.”
The rate of COVID-19 vaccination in St Vincent and the Grenadines is the lowest among the eight member states within the East Caribbean Currency Union. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health revised downwards to 17,483, the number of people here who have received at least one shot of the vaccine. Of these, 3913 persons have been fully vaccinated.
These low rates are being acknowledged even as the local hospitality sector prepares for the full scale return of international guests with protocols here having been relaxed for fully vaccinated travellers. Most employers in this sector are insisting that all employees be fully vaccinated in order to give guests the confidence that they are safe.
SEARCHLIGHT has been informed that forged vaccination certificates are being sold in St Vincent and the Grenadines for between $250 and $1,500.
At least two cases of suspected vaccination certificate forgeries are being investigated by the police, Commissioner of Police Colin John has confirmed.
According to a source close to the investigations, one of these certificates, which was allegedly presented to an employer in the Grenadines as proof of vaccination, indicated that the individual received two doses of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine at a facility on St Vincent; the first dose having been given in February and the second in May.
The certificate was also stamped in two places with what purports to be the official stamp of that facility, and in two other places with what purports to be the official stamp of the National Immunization Program of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment.
The document also includes the names of two senior nurses as the persons who administered the vaccines to the employee in February and May respectively.
But, according to the source, although the document purports to bear the stamps of the Ministry of Health, there is no record of that employee having received a vaccine in the COVID-19 vaccination database of the Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment.
Additionally, an official close to the nurses whose names appear on the certificate, believes the signatures on the document bear no resemblance to the nurses’ authentic signatures.
Recognising the potential danger posed by forgeries, the Government has accelerated efforts to produce a more secure, wallet-size proof of vaccination.
A Ministry of Health official told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the ministry has begun the process of verifying all previously issued vaccination certificates, and the existing cards will be replaced by more secure ones.
“Eventually, a photo ID vaccination card, issued by a Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment approved entity, will be the only valid vaccination card,” the official said.
A legal expert told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that according to Section 245 of the Criminal Code Cap 171 of the Revised Laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines 2009, a person found guilty of making or using a false instrument could be imprisoned for a maximum period of 10 years.