State lawmakers are hoping to enact criminal penalties against the use of fake documents falsely indicating that a person received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Senate Bill 3692 would discipline those involved in the “production, sale and use of false COVID-19 vaccination verification cards,” reads an April 20 statement from the New Jersey Senate Democrats Office.
The prospect of some kind of paper or digital evidence that someone received a COVID-19 vaccine has gained considerable traction across the nation in recent months, becoming a politically and culturally polarizing topic.
Large-scale COVID-19 vaccines are widely regarded as a vital step to lifting restrictions on businesses, public gatherings and travel, and returning to pre-pandemic life. State health officials are racing to vaccinate enough people to hold back the rebound of the virus driven by several contagious mutations.
“As the number of vaccinated citizens continues to rise, it is imperative that we have a plan in place to appropriately address potential bad actors who may attempt to deceive others with a fake COVID-19 vaccination verification card,” reads a statement from Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District.
Someone who sells, offers or provides someone with fake documents could be punished with fines of up to $150,000, and a jail sentence of between five and 10 years. Use of such a fake document could mean fines of up to $15,000 and a jail sentence of between three and five years.
Anyone who “knowingly possesses” a false vaccine card could get fined up to $10,000, and a prison sentence of up to 18 months.
The state attorney general’s office would have to set up a program to crack down on COVID-19 vaccine card fraud, and would have access to the state’s immunization records to determine who was actually vaccinated.
“It is imperative for us to preserve the integrity of the COVID-19 vaccination verification card, so we can continue our progress in further reopening the economy while also managing the spread of this virus,” continued Scutari, who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
The concept of so-called “vaccine passports” has become a politically polarizing statement across the nation.
Republican opponents contend the measure constitutes a violation of civil liberties and medical privacy, and GOP-led states such as Florida, Texas and Montana have gone on to ban their practice. Several Republican New Jersey lawmakers introduced a similar bill, including one by Sen. Mike Testa, R-1st District on April 19.
“No government entity should require their residents to carry a ‘Vaccine Passport’ around to gain access to schools, businesses, and their daily life,” Testa said on April 19. “These types of passports completely violate an individual’s right to personal freedoms, and they are a direct violation of HIPPA laws,” referring to federal medical privacy laws.
The White House has said it has no plans to implement a nationwide vaccine verification system, and that a voluntary, opt-in system would likely be run by private sector apps or vaccine cards issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“Don’t get rid of the card, that’s likely to be something valuable … Laminate it and put it in your wallet,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a mid-March television interview. “There are lots of different potential uses for that, whether it’s going to a sporting event, getting on a plane.”
He later clarified that while he was “open” to the concept of such a verification system, he would ultimately wait for federal CDC guidance.
The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark is requiring patrons to show proof of their COVID-19 inoculation or of a negative test from within the past three days. Rutgers University said it will require all students to get the vaccine in order to return to campus.