'Abhorrent': Fraudsters pay Downtown Eastside residents to get vaccinated in their place

WATCH: Vancouver Coastal Health has received reports of a handful of cases where a fraudster paid a people on the Downtown Eastside to get a COVID-19 vaccine in their place. As Neetu Garcha reports, it appears a system meant to make it easier for a vulnerable person get the vaccine may have opened opportunities for fraud.

Health officials in Vancouver say they’re aware of cases of people trying to pay vulnerable people in the city’s Downtown Eastside to get vaccinated for them so they can fraudulently obtain a COVID-19 vaccine passport.

The Vancouver Coastal Health authority would not confirm how many cases were involved, but confirmed that at least a handful of reports people did obtain bogus BC Vaccine Cards through what it called “deplorable” behaviour.

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The fraudulent activity was first reported by online publication The Tyee, which quoted a DTES health-care worker whose patient told her they’d been paid $200 to get the shot for someone else.

Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Nicole Mucci said the fraudsters were taking advantage of the desperation of some people in the Downtown Eastside.

“The reality is, for anyone experience substance abuse or homelessness, the opportunity to make several hundred dollars it’s not a choice, it’s a survival tactic,” she said.

News of the fraud also drew a stern rebuke from the province’s health minister Thursday.

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“Whatever the Criminal Code test may be, it’s deceptive and fraudulent behaviour taking place on the DTES, presumably so people can get a vaccine card and, I don’t know, go to a restaurant,” Adrian Dix said.

“It seems pretty abhorrent behaviour.”

The Downtown Eastside’s most vulnerable are at particularly high-risk for COVID-19, and are estimated to be four times as likely to have severe outcomes from the virus.

As a result, health officials had reduced barriers to vaccination — including setting up popup vaccine clinics across the DTES and removing the requirement to provide photo ID, a source familiar with the immunization campaign told Global News.

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Vancouver Coastal Health said it had since implemented measures, including identity verification, in place to prevent similar attempts.

“Fraudulent vaccination records are being removed from the Provincial Immunization Registry and B.C. vaccine cards are being revoked,” it said.

Health officials have not reported the fraudulent cards to police, but said Thursday that future instances “may be forwarded to local police authorities for follow-up.”

Earlier this month, police in Edmonton said they’d opened an investigation into similar claims in that city.

That came after an ER nurse said at least six patients came in to the hospital saying they were paid to get multiple vaccinations.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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