MISSOURI − As incentives and vaccination mandates increase, Target 8 takes a deeper look at the accessibility and responses to fake COVID-19 vaccination cards in mid-Missouri.
Earlier this year, the FBI issued a public service announcement to be on the look out for fake vaccination cards.
Sam Halabi is a health law professor at the University of Missouri. He says there's a legal price to pay for the use of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards.
"All vaccine cards are stamped and authorized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Halabi said. "There's a federal law that protects the use of government logos. That law carries a potential $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison."
Those penalties hover as businesses and places of employment are using vaccination incentives and requirements.
Ragtag Cinema will implement a new entry requirement starting on Sept. 10. A valid entry includes a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Masks will still be required to be worn.
"We think it's a positive thing. We hope it's not forever," Ragtag Cinema co-custodian Barbie Banks said. "We will be assessing as often as we can to figure out what the next thing is that we need to do to get through this."
Ragtag Cinema will have additional staff on hand to check vaccination cards before entry into its theaters. Banks says they are training employees to be on the lookout for fake COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We believe that there will probably be some fraud, but we’re going to do everything we can to be prepared for that," Banks said. “Fingers crossed that people are ethical and do the right thing.”
Last month, MU launched a vaccination incentive program.
“For students, there is the possibility of getting free tuition, or tuition discounts," MU spokesperson Christian Basi said. "For faculty and staff, there's free parking potentially available, we also have possibly free tickets to sporting events.”
KOMU 8 asked MU how it's planning to check for fake vaccination cards for its program.
"They verify that the information is valid and accurate. Anyone with incomplete or inconsistent information are provided with a response indicating any issues with the record," Basi told KOMU 8 in an email.
MU Health Care will require all employees, students and providers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, unless granted a medical or religious exception.
KOMU 8 asked MU Health Care's media relations coordination Eric Maze how the health system plans to prove if a vaccination card is real. He did not provide specific details on the subject.
"MU Health Care staff who do not receive and provide documentation of their vaccination or an approved exemption by October 1 will be subject to disciplinary action, which includes suspension without pay for up to seven days," Maze said in an email. "Failing to provide documentation within the suspension period will result in termination.
KOMU 8 asked the Cole County Health Department how it determines the legitimacy of a vaccination card.
"A vaccine card has the spots for last name, first name and date of birth, at the top of the vaccine card," Chezney Schulte, a nurse at the Cole County Health Department said. "Information about the vaccine specifically includes the manufacturer, the lot number, the date that it was administered, and then the site where it was administered.”
Missouri has an online vaccine registry that can act as a double-check for proof of vaccinations.
“Everyone who administers COVID-19 vaccines is registered through ShowMeVax and should be able to chart that administration in that state database,” Schulte said.
KOMU 8 asked the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services for information on the cards it distributes, but the department referred KOMU 8 to the state's Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).
As for how to report a fake vaccination card, DHSS says those reports should be directed elsewhere.
"Because the state does not have any vaccine mandates in place or involvement in the production of these cards, we are not involved in this type of enforcement," Lisa Cox, DHSS communications director, said. "The US Department of Justice has been involved in investigations related to fraudulent vaccine cards. Reports of related misconduct should be directed to law enforcement."
“I just hate that this decision has come to a point where it's not about a personal health care decision,” Schulte said. “The goal shouldn't just be that you're getting a free pass to go places, or get admissions to places or travel to certain places. I really just wish that the decision was, do you want to make this personal health care decision for yourself? Or do you not?”
Health officials warn that the use of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards could be harmful.
“I don't want to convince you to get the vaccine so that you have this path, I want to convince you to get the vaccine so you can see your healthcare benefits to that vaccination status,” Schulte said.
Fake vaccine cards can be reported to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or oig.hhs.gov, or a complaint can be filed with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.