Why Universities and Colleges Need Clear Policies to Deal with Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Records and Test Results

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the new academic year just around the corner, universities and colleges are grappling with a return to campus. Some institutions are calling for mandatory vaccine requirements, and the list continues to grow. In Canada, for example, journalists are sharing news of this rapidly changing landscape on a daily basis. Here are just a few examples of news stories from major news outlets:

Just this morning, the President of the University of Calgary sent a campus-wide e-mail stating:

“Starting September 1, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge will require all those coming to campus to undergo regular rapid testing. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are exempt from this requirement.

Students, faculty, and staff who are not fully vaccinated, and those who would prefer not to disclose their vaccine status, will need to regularly complete a rapid screening test and receive a negative result before they participate in in-person activities.

Any individual who cannot be tested or vaccinated based on medical or other protected grounds recognized by the Alberta Human Rights Act can request an accommodation.”

The e-mail was signed by all three Alberta university presidents:

  • Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Alberta
  • Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary
  • Mike Mahon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Lethbridge

I applaud this decision – wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

What was absent from this communication, and most of the communication I have seen about vaccine requirements on campuses, is what the consequences will be for falsifying vaccine documents. On August 9, the Associated Press published an article on how “Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials” in the United States.

It is utterly naïve to think that fake COVID-19 test results or vaccination records are limited to the United States or other countries. These are already available for sale for Canadians. I will not include links to these services in this blog post because I do not want to give the impression that I am endorsing any of these services, but you can do a simple Internet search yourself to find out how easy it is to buy these in Canada.

One Canadian news report claimed that fake COVID-19 vaccine passports were available for purchase online for as little as $12. That’s about the same cost as a box of donuts and a couple of coffees from a popular Canadian donut chain restaurant.

A critical question that remains unanswered is: What are the consequences for presenting fake or fraudulent COVID-19 documents on our campuses?

For staff and professors, I expect that human resources departments will be involved. For students, I expect that presenting fake COVID-19 would be a violation of student conduct rules (e.g., academic or non-academic misconduct). What is unclear is how such cases will be dealt with.

Falsifying COVID-10 vaccination status or test results is a willful act of dishonesty and needs to be treated as such.

I contend that such consequences need to be articulated through institution-wide policies and procedures and must be consistent across the institution. For example, it would be ridiculous for a student in arts to receive a warning and a student in science to receive an expulsion for the same offence of presenting a fake COVID-19 vaccination record. Similarly, it would diminish public trust in the institution if contract-based staff were dismissed from their employment for presenting faked COVID-19 documents, but tenured faculty members or administrators received a warning.

Universities and colleges need to take a strong and public stance on the issue of fake COVID-19 documentation.

This is no time to hide behind political-speak such as, “Violations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis” or “We do not expect this to be a problem”. This is a time for universities and colleges to communicate clear and firm expectations that presenting accurate and honest information regarding COVID-19 vaccination status or test results is essential for upholding the academic integrity and ethical standards. In addition, institutions need to develop and communicate clear and firm consequences for presenting fake or falsified COVID-19 documents.

Further, it would be useful for institutions to track and report on misconduct that occurs related to COVID-19, for all campus stakeholders including students, staff, faculty, and administrators and report back to the community on how cases are addressed. This is a not only a matter of public interest, it is a matter of public health. Lives are literally at stake.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.

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