Our worst nightmare about fake Covid-19 vaccine certificates has come true.
A private clinic in Gombak, Selangor, did not bother with forging digital vaccine certificates on the MySejahtera app that are created with blockchain tech. Instead, they simply just allegedly avoided jabbing people in the privacy of a doctor’s examination room, threw away the vaccines, and registered their fraudulent patients as vaccine recipients on MySejahtera to get legitimate digital vaccine certificates without inoculation.
This level of sophisticated deception is nearly foolproof, compared to other attempts of creating fake physical Covid-19 vaccination certificates, such as in Terengganu and Kelantan. A case in Melaka involved the downloads of fake MySejahtera vaccine certificates by a middleman for a couple that falsely claimed to have been vaccinated at a government health clinic (the clinic confirmed it did not inoculate the couple).
While the vaccination process from vaccine collection to registration and the digital certificate is protected with strict protocols, the act of injecting vaccine into arms itself wholly depends on the integrity of the vaccine administrator. If the medical practitioner is corrupt, it is extremely difficult to prevent them from falsely certifying Covid-19 vaccination.
Police found that the Gombak clinic registered a whopping 5,601 vaccine recipients on MySejahtera over the past three months. It is unknown how many of these did not actually receive their Covid-19 shots.
If the clinic also inoculated people who genuinely wanted the vaccine, it would be near impossible to trace who among its patient group did not get vaccinated unless the doctor kept records – unlikely for a corrupt and criminal act.
Even if all 5,601 vaccine recipients registered by the Gombak clinic were not actually vaccinated, there is no way for the police or the Ministry of Health (MOH) to conclusively prove that they did not receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccines are administered by the doctor on the patient alone in the examination room, without CCTV or witnesses.
Imposing antibody tests on mere suspicion would be unethical; also, likely ineffective due to vaccine waning immunity. In any case, MOH previously advised the public against taking antibody tests to check if the coronavirus vaccines they took are effective.
The Gombak case is the perfect crime. One cannot prove the absence of something. Even if the police manage to get a patron of the Gombak clinic to admit they were not vaccinated, without documented or video evidence, it’s the patient’s word against the doctor’s. Viral WhatsApp messages can hardly hold up as proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As despicable as it is to throw away vaccines, the case will likely not even make it to prosecution in court and the unvaccinated people will never be identified.
Police pointed out that the Gombak clinic initially charged people RM3,000 to get their MySejahtera vaccine certificates without being vaccinated, before reducing prices to RM500 amid competition from other clinics.
How big is this problem? If one corrupt clinic alone registered nearly 6,000 vaccine recipients, how many more were given legitimate MySejahtera vaccine certificates by other clinics without getting vaccinated? We will likely never know.
The government instituted vaccine passes for entry into public premises to increase the vaccination rate. But the government’s obsession with getting a perfect 100 per cent vaccination rate – impossible anywhere because there will always be people who refuse to get vaccinated – is undermined by fraudulent vaccine certificates.
We can’t do anything about the MySejahtera vaccine certificates that were already issued. Hopefully, almost everyone who received certification of their primary course were vaccinated, since reports of fake vaccine certificates only emerged this month during the booster vaccination programme.
With the inability to fully ensure that vaccines are injected into arms, the government should roll back all public policies that make boosters a prerequisite for looser movement restrictions, like shorter quarantine for boosted close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases.
The government should also drop plans to yank “fully vaccinated” MySejahtera status for primed Sinovac recipients and seniors aged 60 years and older who do not get their third vaccine dose by February 28.
If people absolutely do not want a third shot, the government cannot force them to get it. Threatening to deny people entry into public premises without a third jab will only increase demand for fraudulent Covid-19 vaccine certificates that, as the Gombak case shows, are near impossible to prove.
It’s better for Malaysia to have accurate vaccination statistics so that health authorities can better identify localities with higher potential for Covid-19 outbreaks, rather than to get an illusory 100 per cent vaccination rate with thousands, or tens of thousands, of unvaccinated people in reality.
Since nearly every single adult in Malaysia has been fully vaccinated – on paper at least – the government should do away with the requirement of showing vaccine passes for entry into public spaces.
The third dose must remain optional. Malaysia has among the highest vaccination rates in the world. Mandating booster shots is a deeply privileged position amid global vaccine inequity when many in African countries can’t even get their first dose.
With greater hesitancy against boosters than primary vaccination, the government should prepare for possibly more resistance towards paediatric Covid-19 inoculation. Parents cannot be forced to vaccinate their under-12 children against their will; they can only be persuaded that Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective for kids, but the choice is theirs.
All the government can do is to continue public education about booster vaccines, but ultimately, it’s up to individuals to decide whether or not they want to better protect themselves from hospitalisation for Covid-19 with a third jab.
There’s a limit to State coercion in health, including public health, especially when even four Covid-19 vaccine doses cannot prevent infection, according to a preliminary Israel study. People just need to make their own decisions over their personal health and suffer the consequences of not heeding science and data.
Boo Su-Lyn is CodeBlue editor-in-chief. She is a libertarian, or classical liberal, who believes in minimal state intervention in the economy and socio-political issues.