People who are scared or reluctant to get Covid-19 vaccines are able to obtain the official vaccination card without taking the vaccine doses. They can use the card to conduct their transactions in government departments or travel abroad since these cards are provided by a network that works directly within health institutions.
The demand on getting the vaccination card without taking any dose of the vaccine in return of paying an amount of money up 200 American Dollars has become a widespread phenomenon in many Iraqi provinces, especially by citizens who are afraid to take the vaccine, of different religions and ethnicities, while the government insists on vaccination in particular to state employees and visitors of state departments.
Nasreen Ali, a resident of Salah al-Din province, is one of thousands who refused to receive vaccine doses on the pretext that “there are more harm than benefits”, but after being admitted to a university in one of the neighbor Arab countries for postgraduate studies, she had to look for someone to help her to obtain the vaccination card as one of the requirements of admission and permission to travel.
Nasreen was afraid of receiving the vaccine after one of her relatives died days after receiving a dose of the Corona vaccine.
“The time left for me to get the international vaccination card and my travel was very tight,” Nasreen said. “I was looking for someone to help me get over this problem.”
One of her friends told her about a young man who could help her and she called the “Spearhead.”
All that was required of her was to send a copy of the national card or the civil status card to “the Spearhead.” Few days later, Nasreen got the Covid-19 vaccination certificate, and then she got the international vaccination ID.
Who is the Spearhead?
“Spearhead”, a nickname given to a young man who provides citizens with vaccination cards against the Coronavirus for those who do not want to take doses, as he provides registered cards officially signed and sealed from a health centre in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and also receives text messages via their private phones, alike ordinary people who register and take the doses.
Within one month, the “spearhead” who personally spoke to (KirkukNow), provided 20 citizens, most of them from Kirkuk province, with signed and stamped vaccination cards from a health centre in Baghdad, and all of them received text messages from local health departments that they were vaccinated and had got both doses of US-manufactured Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
He has a direct connection with employees working in vaccination centres, some of whom take over data entry, “after we give these employees the identity cards of those who wish to issue the vaccination card.”
When you get the card from the “Spearhead”, you can visit the official departments, enter universities and educational institutions, and you can also obtain an international vaccination card in English to travel abroad.
According to the instructions of the administration of Kirkuk province based on the decision of the Iraqi Council of Ministers, employees and visitors of official departments and institutions must take the Corona vaccine, otherwise, tests to detect Corona must be conducted on weekly basis.
“Spearhead” is a 32-year-old young man who, as his name indicates, is the spearhead of the network that works to provide citizens and employees with genuine Corona vaccine cards without taking the jab.
The “spearhead” explained that he has a direct connection with employees working in the vaccination centres, some of whom take over data entry. After entering the data, the applicant receives a short message SMS from the Iraqi Ministry of Health website stating that they have received the vaccine doses.
The spearhead says, he is “helping others and is not saving an amount of money for himself.”
The “Spearhead” started his work at the end of 2021 and is currently contacted by many people asking him to help them obtain a vaccination card.
Beneficiaries sharing the service provided by the “Spearhead“
Muhammad Sabah, another person who obtained a vaccination card in this way told (KirkukNow), “The Spearhead asked me for a phone number and a copy of the civil status ID and residence card yet I was too surprised when a few hours later, I received two messages at the same time saying (Dear Muhammad Sabah, you have received the vaccination – The Sender Ministry of Health (MOH)).”
A day after receiving the SMS messages, Muhammad obtained the vaccination card sent to him by the “Spearhead”, but he was not yet sure whether it was fake or original. “A few days later, I went to the centre for issuing the international card, only to be surprised that the card was official, as if I had already received the vaccine.”
I helped more than 50 people to get vaccine cards for free, and double were sold by the network members.The “Spearhead”.
After she obtained the vaccination card, Nasreen has sent dozens of people to the “Spearhead” to issue them vaccination cards in the same way, thus expanding the work scope of the “Spearhead” to include several provinces.
One card is up to $200
Health officials have not denied that vaccination certificates are given to people without being vaccinated and several groups have been arrested in connection with this phenomenon.
Jasib Al-Hijami, the director of al-Karkh Health Department in Baghdad, spoke more than once to the media or through his personal Facebook page about corruption and referring those involved in selling vaccine cards to investigation, but these investigations did not reach any significant result.
“Since the first days of the launch of the vaccination campaign to prevent the emerging Coronavirus, it was accompanied by bribery payments and fraud for the purpose of obtaining a vaccination card that supports receiving the person without actually receiving it,” he said in a Facebook post last July.
“There are now forged cards, the price of which reaches 200 dollars per card,” describing this act as “disgraceful” or as “paying a hired killer to kill him,” Al-Hijami added.
“If that person falls ill and dies, how can he face his Lord, when he is the one who paid money and bribes to die?” Al-Hijami asked. “As for the one who receives bribery and forgery, he is a hired killer who bears the sin of everyone who falls ill or dies because of him.”
The director of the Karkh Health Department pointed out that “there are people who are currently being investigated in al-Karkh Health Department who helped issue vaccination cards.”
Suspects arrested for issuing certificates
In December 2021, a security source in Kirkuk province reported the arrest of a gang that forged and sold Corona vaccine cards.
Major Amer Nuri, the Kirkuk police spokesman, said the counter-crime detachments of Kirkuk police managed to arrest a gang that forged and sold COVID-19 vaccine cards, in front of the Nationality and Passports Directorate building in Kirkuk, after setting up a tight ambush.
“Their confession was initially and judicially ratified in accordance with Articles 298 and 289 of the Penal Code.”
Article 289 of the Iraqi Penal Code stipulates a penalty of “imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 years for anyone who commits forgery of an official document.
Few months ago, a gang who forged vaccine cards was arrested in Diyala province.
On January 16, 2022, the Security Media Cell, under the Iraqi ministry of interior, announced the arrest of 12 people on charges of selling coronavirus vaccine cards.
The statement indicated that “five of the accused are employees of the relevant departments.”
Senior servants in relevant departments believe it is not easy to control the process though it is very complicated and measures have been taken.
One of the employees of the Rusafa Health Department, who is responsible for entering data after the vaccination, anonymously told KirkukNow, “The procedures of the Ministry, the Health Department, the management of sectors, and the management of hospitals and centres have not led to a decrease in the phenomenon of selling cards, some of it are official and others are fake.”
Despite the closure of several centres and hospitals since last October, people come to our centre after months to enter the card data issued by hospitals and centres closed two months ago. When we ask them for verification to prove to us that the signatures and stamps are official, they leave and never return.Anonymous.
KirkukNow tried to reach the main financier with the vaccine cards on which the “Spearhead” depends, but to no avail.
“If you insist on the matter, I will end the conversation and I will not talk about anything on this subject,” then said that he is “a person who works only to help people.”
Occasionally, the system for sending out verification messages is subject to a temporary suspension for the purpose of maintenance or due to a specific malfunction. Because of this, Karwan Hussein, a Kurdish resident, refused to receive the vaccination card from the “Spearhead” without receiving the message because he fears that it is forged, according to his opinion. However, Hussein got the message later.
I was obliged to obtain a vaccine card to conduct my documents in government departments, but I was not ready to take the vaccine because I did not trust the local government in Kirkuk to keep vaccine effective.Karwan Hussein.
The Ministry of Health and its departments in the provinces have always worked with the media, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to publish and broadcast special programmes to raise awareness of the need for vaccination, as well as to combat rumors and misleading news.
Vaccine effects and rumors
On November 26, 2021, a student died in Daquq district, south of Kirkuk, after receiving a dose of the Coronavaccine, and social media pages published that the student had died due to the effect of the vaccine.
A day after the incident, the director of the Kirkuk Health Department, Nabil Hamdi Bushnaq, said, “That student, Adnan Mustafa, was infected with the virus and had a 50% lung infection rate.”
He stressed that “the vaccine does not cause disease,” adding that “it seems that the young man had a fever but he did not tell his family about that, and when they asked him, he did not tell them that he was infected, so he took the first dose of the vaccine.”
The “Spearhead” concluded the interview with KirkukNow saying, “I advise you to visit the Miredi market and see for yourself, why don’t the state and the regulatory authorities fight this matter because there are cases of sale and forgery outside the health centres designated for vaccination…?”
Note: The names of the cardholders mentioned in this investigative report are all pseudonyms, according to their request and the request of the “Spearhead”.