14 Feb 2022

Covid-19: US man buys vaccine certificate to get into NZ

10:32 am on 14 February 2022

A man whose unvaccinated brother is planning to come to New Zealand with an illegally-obtained vaccine certificate is worried there's no way to check official documents against actual vaccination.

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The man's brother said he was planning a trip this year after obtaining a vaccination certificate from a pharmacist who was selling them in his home town. Photo: 123rf

"Peter", who RNZ has agreed not to name, said his brother, a frequent visitor to New Zealand, obtained a vaccination certificate from a pharmacist who was selling them in his home town in the United States. The brother was planning to come and visit this year.

"He will try and come as soon as the borders open and use his official records to do it," Peter said.

No unvaccinated non-citizen can enter New Zealand under the government's five-step entry plan, not even if they went to MIQ.

Peter said he was still pondering the ethics of letting his brother stay at his house. He was finding it a difficult choice to make considering his "rural libertarian" US family, none of whom had been vaccinated.

"My family would never forgive me if I snitched to the government," he said. "I'm concerned, but I'm not going to ban my brother from coming."

Peter said he wondered how many other unvaccinated travellers had similar plans to use illegally-obtained vaccine certificates or forgeries, and how big an impact they could have in the spread of the disease in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Stephanie Greathead, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) acting general manager for border and visa operations, said INZ entry into New Zealand for non-citizens and residents relied on a person demonstrating they had met Covid-19 health requirements including, where applicable, the need to be vaccinated.

"If anyone is aware of somebody potentially providing fraudulent documentation to apply for a visa they can report it to Crime Stoppers," she said.

"In the event that a visa holder provides falsified vaccination information to enter New Zealand, INZ will investigate the allegation and take action as appropriate.

"In some cases, providing INZ with false and misleading information can be punishable by a term of seven years imprisonment. Applicants who falsify information and are unsuccessful in entering the country can be prevented from travelling to New Zealand in the future or, if already here, may be required to leave or face deportation."

A Customs spokesperson said non-New Zealand citizens needed to meet all Covid-19 vaccination requirements before flying to New Zealand, and Customs checked vaccine documents or exemptions.

Arriving in New Zealand without meeting the vaccination requirements was an infringement offence and could result in a fine ranging from $500 to $4000, they said.

However, Peter said the documents his brother had weren't falsified and there was no other way to show he had or hadn't had the vaccine.

"I don't know if the New Zealand government recognises how corrupt the US is," he said. "I could alert immigration, but he has an official document saying he's vaccinated. It's not a forgery; it's an official record."

That means that as far as we can practically tell, his brother is vaccinated. University of Otago professor of immunology and microbiology James Ussher said it was not yet possible to tell from blood test results if someone had been vaccinated against Covid-19 or had a prior infection.

"There's no way from a standard laboratory-based diagnostic method that you could prove someone had been vaccinated and that they didn't have evidence of infection-related immunity," he said.

However, Ussher said New Zealand will be protected by the vast majority of travellers to the country doing the right thing.

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