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As vaccine mandates proliferate, so do bootleg vaccine cards

CHICAGO — A woman from a Chicago suburb was arrested in Hawaii last week for entering the state with a fake vaccine card. Chloe Mrozak, 24, was caught because she misspelled Moderna as “Maderna” on her bogus card.

Hawaii requires visitors who have not been vaccinated in the U.S. to quarantine for 10 days; Mrozak is currently out on bond awaiting trial.

Mrozak was not the first to try her stunt.

“We’ve arrested and charged seven people for false vaccination cards,” said Gary Yamashiroya, special assistant to the Hawaii attorney general, in an interview.

As vaccine mandates come down from private companies and government authorities — President Joe Biden mandated vaccines for all federal employees this week — underground markets for bootleg vaccine cards are emerging across the country.

In New York, 15 people were arrested in August for involvement in a vaccine card forgery ring. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced that it believed that the two main sellers managed to sell about 250 forged cards on Instagram.

They sold the fake cards from an account listed on the site as @AntiVaxMomma, and fraudulently entered 10 other people’s names into the New York State Immunization Information System, which keeps records of which New York residents have gotten a vaccine.

In Chicago, local pharmacist Tangtang Zhao, 34, was arrested in August for selling 125 blank CDC vaccine cards to 11 people on eBay. According to a Department of Justice press release, Zhao used authentic cards supplied to his pharmacy by the CDC, intended to be given to those who got a vaccine on the premises. He faces up to a decade in prison for the bootlegging.

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“Knowingly selling COVID vaccination cards to unvaccinated individuals puts millions of Americans at risk of serious injury or death,” said FBI Special Agent Emmerson Buie in a statement. “To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences.”

E-commerce platforms have made their own cut from bootleg vaccination card sellers. Zhao’s cards were hosted on eBay, which charges a fee on sold items. A June report by Media Matters for America indicates that blank CDC cards could be purchased from Etsy as recently as June. The cards have since been removed from the online store, but unofficial “Vaccine Exemption cards are sold on Amazon for $14 apiece.

Three former Vermont state police officers — Shawn Sommers, Raymond Witkowski and David Pfindel — are under FBI investigation for their involvement in a scheme to make and distribute fake vaccination cards.

“Shawn Sommers and Raymond Witkowski submitted their resignations on Aug. 10, 2021, one day after another Vermont State Police trooper raised concerns with supervisors about their conduct. David Pfindel resigned effective Sept. 3 following additional investigation by the Department of Public Safety,” the Vermont State Police announced Tuesday.

As the pandemic continues and vaccinations remain the subject of political polarization, the black market for fake or blank vaccine cards could expand. Defying mandates and vaccination entry policies such as Hawaii’s has become a matter of principle for some vaccination opponents.

Just ask conservative political commentator and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“Buying a fake vaccination card is not a … serious crime. It’s not even close to a serious crime,” Carlson said in a Sept. 2 segment of his nightly talk show. “Buying a fake vaccination card is an act of desperation by decent, law-abiding Americans who have been forced into a corner by tyrants.”

For those who disagree with Carlson, the noble defiance of those getting a fake vaccine can be hard to see.

“Had another cousin die over the weekend due to COVID,” wrote Twitter user @CajurTheMighty on Aug. 30. “She was fully vaxxed, but the woman she worked with had a fake vaccination card. My cousin is now dead.”

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U.S. District Court records

This undated image provided by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California shows two fake CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards that are part of a criminal complaint. With more than 600 colleges and universities now requiring proof of COVID-19 inoculations, an online industry has sprung up offering fake vaccine cards.