The pharmacy and aged care sectors have called for new penalties for vaccination status fraud including bribery, use of fake certificates or stand-in vaccine recipients getting the Covid-19 jab on behalf of an unvaccinated person.
The Pharmacy Guild and Aged and Community Services Australia have warned that anti-vaxxers are using these tactics to escape public health laws including “no jab, no job” provisions in the aged care sector.
Services Australia has said there are penalties of up to $6,660 for vaccine providers who forge records, but the submissions to the joint committee on law enforcement’s vaccine-related fraud inquiry point to gaps in existing laws.
The Pharmacy Guild said that vaccination certificate fraud was an ongoing concern.
The guild noted a “small number of reports” of pharmacists being asked to falsify immunisation records, including being offered a “significant financial inducement” の $1,000. General practitioners have also complained of attempted bribery.
The guild said there had also been reports of “individuals other than the person who has made the vaccination booking presenting for vaccination at a pharmacy” so that a third person – such as an anti-vaxxer – could receive a genuine Covid-19 vaccination certificate without having had the jab.
It said vaccination status fraud “will likely become more prevalent”, warning that pharmacists should not have to be the ones policing fraud because they could be subjected to harassment and intimidation.
“Penalties, akin to those that apply to quarantine breachers and those who ignore mandatory vaccination orders, should also apply to those seeking to bribe a vaccinator to falsify records or to manipulate records, either digitally or by having someone else get vaccinated in their place.”
The guild also complained that “no guidance” had been given about whether potential Covid-19 vaccination status fraud needed to be reported, calling for uniform guidelines and a dedicated reporting system.
Vaccination passports are the centrepiece of many states’ reopening plan, with residents of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria needing to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated to access retail and hospitality venues.
Australia also has a nationwide requirement for workers in the aged care sector to be vaccinated, with state-based mandates extending the “no jab, no job” principle to large swathes of the public service and high-risk industries.
ACSA expressed “concern over the potential adverse impacts that may arise in the aged care sector from the emergence of fake vaccine certificates”.
“Of particular concern is the employment of potentially unvaccinated aged care workers, which would create increased vulnerability for older persons who are consumers of aged care as well as creating risk for providers not meeting public health orders requiring workers to be vaccinated,” it submitted.
“To maximise the protection of aged care consumers from Covid-19, the Australian government should introduce penalties for use of fraudulent certificates as a deterrence.”
In its submission, Services Australia acknowledged with “the emerging adult vaccine requirements there may be potential risk around forging of vaccination records”.
But it claimed “harsh penalties” were already in place, including fines of up to $6,660 if a vaccination provider breaches their obligations and $26,640 and two years in prison for “offences committed relating to protected information”.
“The agency is aware of a small number of scams relating to vaccination certificates and allegations of fake certificates.
“The agency works closely with the relevant authorities to address and manage those threats appropriately.”
The health department submitted that Services Australia was working to “develop a Covid-19 specific immunisation record” that would include “live image detection, such as a shimmering watermark, making the digital record difficult to replicate”.