Vancouver Coastal Health says people who don’t want to get vaccinated themselves have been paying vulnerable people who live in the Downtown Eastside to get COVID-19 shots using the fraudsters’ name and health number.
A health-care worker in the neighbourhood says she recently encountered a patient who had been paid $200 to get two shots using another person’s name and personal health number. She said the patient is extremely vulnerable and has mental health and addiction issues, and was not able to make a fully informed decision when presented with a chance to make extra money.
“I’m angry at people taking advantage, but also that this is what [this patient] has to do to make money because they live in abject poverty,” the health-care worker said.
The worker spoke to The Tyee anonymously because she could face reprisals from her employer for speaking to the media.
The worker said she gave the patient a third dose of the vaccine, a “booster” shot now being given to B.C. residents across the province, in an attempt to counter the highly infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19.
But because the patient had gotten the two previous shots under another person’s name, the patient will not be able to get proof they are fully vaccinated.
Since Oct. 24, B.C. residents have needed a vaccine passport showing they’ve received at least two doses to go to eat in restaurants or cafés, and to enter indoor spaces like bars, movie theatres and sports venues. Some employers also require their employees to have a vaccine passport.
In the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver Coastal Health has been running pop-up vaccination clinics on street corners, overdose prevention sites and venues like the Carnegie Community Centre to try to get residents vaccinated. Many people who live in the neighbourhood have pre-existing health conditions and are more likely to end up in hospital if they contract COVID-19.
The Vancouver Coastal Health authority told The Tyee that staff are aware of people trying to get vaccine passports fraudulently by paying vulnerable people in the neighbourhood to be vaccinated.
The health authority said it’s now put in place “measures to thwart these attempts” and will be ensuring that anyone seeking a COVID-19 vaccine in the Downtown Eastside is eligible to get one and has their identity confirmed.
VCH did not respond to questions about how many times this type of vaccine fraud has happened.
While many Downtown Eastside residents have their identification repeatedly stolen, the health-care worker said it’s possible to confirm patients’ identity by asking them for their full name and birthday and checking that information with health records.
She added that it’s disturbing to realize that unvaccinated people may be able to enter restaurants and other venues where vaccine passports are required using the fraudulent documents.
There have been reports of similar fraud in Edmonton, again using vulnerable people to get shots under other people’s names. An emergency room nurse told Global News that they had encountered at least six patients who said they’d been paid to get vaccinated, including one who said they’d gotten seven shots in one day.
One patient had told the nurse that the end customer for the vaccine proof pays $2,000 to a third party, but the people who agree to get the shot are paid $100, according to the Global News story.
Alberta Health Services told Global News that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and adverse reactions are rare, but it’s not advised to have more doses than recommended. Getting doses too close together could increase the risk of having an adverse reaction, AHS said.
Edmonton police are now investigating the reports of vaccine fraud, and Vancouver Coastal Health says it will report any future incidents of fraud to police.
The Downtown Eastside health worker who spoke to The Tyee said the patient she spoke with was afraid of getting in trouble and was reluctant to give her information because of that fear.
She emphasized that it’s the fraudsters, not the vulnerable people being enticed to get vaccinated for money, who should face the consequences of their actions.