PPEOPLE TREND join dating apps to find love. But social media users in Kazakhstan are sliding to the right for less romantic services. On an array of platforms, scammers are now making a roaring trade in fake vaccination documents.
“Vaccination passport without vaccination” is how an account offers you to register in Kazakhstan’s e-government system. This then gives you an electronic vaccination passport, so far primarily intended for use only in the country, at a cost of up to $ 70, or about 12% of the average monthly salary.
Why pay when vaccinations and vaccination passports are free? One of the reasons is that many Kazakhs are anti-vaccine but need a certificate to go to work. Anyone in direct contact with the public – from waiters and salespeople to shoemakers and dry cleaners – must produce a vaccination passport, unless they have a medical exemption or have recently contracted the virus.
Kazakhstan’s healthcare system is one of the most corrupt sectors in the country. A black market in fake exemption certificates and fake covid-19 tests showing a negative result is booming. The penalty for forgery can be up to four years in prison, but the chances of being caught are slim. Police and medical personnel can often be bribed. Since President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered action against this “direct threat to public health and safety”, some doctors have been arrested. But counterfeiters are jaded about damaging the health of the country. “If someone does not want to be vaccinated and has the possibility of forging a passport, it is their right”, explains a forger.
At present, only 16% of Kazakhs have officially suffered a double blow. The government says it is trying to get more than half of the population vaccinated by September using Russian and Chinese vaccines and a local version. Health officials are increasingly inventive. On July 17, they took particularly virulent anti-vaccines on a tour of covid-19 services in Almaty, the commercial capital, where hospitals are filling up.
Yet the anti-vax sentiment persists. A Gallup poll at the end of last year showed that only 25% of Kazakhs were ready to get bitten. In a more recent poll, 59% saw the vaccine as the only way out of the crisis, but a third still had no plans to get it. Many subscribe to conspiracy theories that the vaccination is part of a malicious conspiracy to integrate fleas into humans to monitor them. Others are simply suspicious of anything the government tells them.
Better communication rather than coercion is key to changing attitudes, says Botagoz Kaukenova, a doctor who heads an organization that fights disinformation about the virus. A recent poll found that only 19% of Kazakhs believed government messages about the virus to be reliable.
In addition to endangering public health, widespread counterfeiting has plunged some Kazakhs into Kafkaesque nightmares. A young man complained to local media that he received an unwelcome gift: a fake vaccination passport his parents bought with a bribe without his knowledge. Now he cannot get the vaccine even if he wants to because the system shows him as already stung.
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This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Get jabbed? Get stuffed!”