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‘I slipped a ₽1,000 bill in her lab coat’: false vaccine certificates in Russia’s North Caucasus

13 August 2021
The Nalchik First Polyclinic. Photo: OC Media.

As compulsory vaccination for COVID-19 begins for some professions in Russia, in the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, falsified vaccination certificates are available for as little as $14.

After representatives of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing and the local health ministry visited her school, Aziza (not her real name) knew she would need a vaccine certificate.

After the lessons, they gathered all the teachers in a classroom and started explaining to us how important it is to be vaccinated’, Aziza says.

She says they explained that soon, tough new rules would be introduced requiring certain professions to get vaccinated or face termination.  Most of the teachers, Aziza says, decided to get their shot. 

‘The fact that compulsory vaccination was introduced in several eastern regions of the country — in the Sakhalin, in Yakutia and some other regions — indirectly confirmed what they said. I thought about it and decided to get a certificate without getting this vaccine’.

Aziza went to the First Polyclinic of Nalchik and after talking with the doctor, registered to be vaccinated.

‘I told the nurse that I had hepatitis-B and quickly slipped a ₽1,000 bill ($14) into the pocket of her white coat, asking her not to inject me’, Aziza recalls. ‘She nodded, put down the already-filled syringe, gave me a cotton swab, and told me to hold it on my shoulder and to take the certificate for the first dose of my vaccination from the doctor on my way out.’

Aziza says she did the same when she visited the clinic for the second dose and was given a document certifying that she has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Later, Aziza says she shared her experience with a colleague who told her she did exactly the same thing.

The First Polyclinic of Nalchik declined to comment.

‘Our nurses are paid ₽12,000–₽15,000 per month’

Aziza’s experience was not unique. Several other residents of Kabardino-Balkaria told OC Media similar stories of paying to receive vaccination certificates. 

Askhat (not his real name) works for a private security agency in Moscow which requires staff to be vaccinated.

‘Claims by some officials that the illegal sale and purchase of certificates and obtaining a QR code would be impossible without the involvement of a whole group of medical workers in this process is ridiculous. Everything is much simpler’, Askhat says. He says he received his certificate by paying the nurse ₽2,000 ($27).

‘Some say that all measures are being taken to prevent cases of fraud with certificates in the republic, that the measures are as good as if they had cameras in the vaccination rooms! It always makes me laugh when I hear that’, Askhat says.

Askhat says he ‘violated the law’ because his wife, who was vaccinated with the Russian EpiVacCorona vaccine, experienced negative side effects soon after her vaccination. Short-term side-effects including fever, headache, and nausea are common with several of the COVID-19 vaccines being used around the world.

Temir (not his real name) works for the police in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, Nalchik. Temir told OC Media that at first he believed that top officials in the republic's Ministry of Health must be making money by selling certificates.

‘All everyone around me talked about was this, but then, after listening to the stories of colleagues, I realised that everything is simple: you pay the nurse and she [doesn’t give you a shot].’  He, like the others, also managed to buy a certificate for ₽2,000 ($27).

Temir says that there is no agreed-upon amount for the bribe — ‘everyone paid as much as he saw fit.’ 

‘Our nurses are paid ₽12,000–₽15,000 ($160–$200) [per month], so for them, even ₽500 ($6.60) is a lot. The most common bill is bread’, Temir says.

‘There is a piece of paper — there is a vaccinated patient, and a report is sent to Moscow that this many per cent have been vaccinated in the Kabardino-Balkaria. In terms of the rate of vaccination, the republic occupies such and such a place. The head of the regional department, and hence the region itself, is in good standing’.

According to unofficial data from GoGov, almost 74,000 people have been fully vaccinated in Kabardino-Balkaria, 8.5% of the population. Another 56,000 have reportedly received their first doses.

However, there are no estimates as to how many people, like Aziza, Askhat and, Temir, who paid to bypass their vaccinations. 

According to a source in the Ministry of Health of Kabardino-Balkaria, the authorities have recorded three cases of illegally issued vaccine certificates over the last few weeks, two in separate clinics in Nalchik and one in the northern village of Soldatskaya.

All three were uncovered after police officers approached nurses undercover. A case of petty fraud has been opened against the doctor who issued the certificate in the Third Polyclinic in Nalchik. 

The source said that the authorities were holding ‘preventative conversations’ with doctors and medical staff to inform them of the criminal liability they could face in an attempt to prevent the practice. Head doctors of clinics have also sent out written notifications on the topic, which staff must sign.

Finally, the source said that vaccination rooms in large polyclinics had been equipped with CCTV.

‘A well-organised scheme will now emerge’

According to Temir, there is currently no centralised criminal scheme for selling vaccination certificates in Kabardino-Balkaria, and accountability for the current problems lies with individual healthcare facilities.

But Temir says that this is likely to change.

‘This is how it happens with everything here. When they begin to fine people for a lack of vaccination certificates — then a centralised scheme for selling them will appear. In the meantime, everything is at the individual level.’ 

On 15 July, Kabardino-Balkaria introduced mandatory vaccination for workers in several fields including tourism, transport, and trade.

Murat (not his real name), a former employee of the Department for Combating Organised Crime, like Temir, says that ‘a well-organised scheme for selling [certificates]’ will now likely emerge. 

Sayda (not her real name), a healthcare worker at the Terek Second City Polyclinic, agreed that compulsory vaccination would affect the demand for vaccination certificates.

Saida says that demand for vaccination certificates was relatively new, and first emerged with the beginning of the tourism season, as well as the lifting or weakening of COVID restrictions abroad for tourists from Russia.

She said that the slow pace of vaccination so far was due to a lack of trust in the authorities.

‘People do not trust official information [and everything is being done to] get Moscow to pat the leadership on the shoulder with approval’.

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