What Fraudulent Vaccine Card Schemes Reveal About America.
Undercover agents, midwives, and the criminalization of autonomy.
The vaccine mandates of the Covid pandemic were a radical departure from previous public health policies and norms in America. During the pandemic, often while it was still under an expedited “emergency authorization,” many children and adolescents were barred from colleges, summer camps, sports, arts programs and other activities if they hadn’t received the vaccine. Countless adults, similarly, were unable to work, go to a restaurant, a concert, a show, or participate in other social activities without proof of vaccination.
Unlike many other vaccines, given that someone’s Covid vaccination status was uninformative about whether they were infected or not, these mandates not were only an imposition on civil liberties, but also epidemiologically unsound.
Court documents from more than a half-dozen Covid vaccine fraud cases around the country shed new light on this fraught time in our history, and expose some inconvenient truths.
First, the cases suggest that media narratives around “anti-vaxxers” as an only-right-wing phenomenon were misleading.
In January 2022, Time magazine ran a story titled, “How the Anti-Vax Movement Is Taking Over the Right.” The piece detailed how the movement against vaccine mandates “was a window into a growing political cause that is beginning to unite a host of groups across the right.” And the article asserted that anti-mandate rallies “seemed to be driven by the same narratives that pulled thousands of Americans into the QAnon conspiracy.” NPR ran a piece on the “growing alliance between anti-vaccine activists and pro-Trump Republicans.” The widely covered Canadian trucker convoy—which began as a protest against vaccine mandates—was similarly portrayed as a coalescence of right-wing views. Beyond the media, the academy pushed this idea as well, for example a scholarly paper tying “anti-gender and anti-vaccine” positions together as part of “right-wing discourses.”
It is true that Republicans were vaccinated against Covid at a lower rate than Democrats. (Though, since people often answer polls and surveys with what they think is an acceptable response, rather than the truth, survey data can be notoriously unreliable.) Still, among the half-dozen or so vaccine fraud cases I reviewed, a number of the perpetrators were almost certainly on the left politically.
A midwifery in upstate New York called Sage-Femme, like many of the schemers, used its status as a medical center to order vaccine doses and receive genuine vaccine cards from the government. But instead of vaccinating patients the center destroyed the doses and filled out cards for patients erroneously saying they had been vaccinated. Sage-Femme racked up two separate indictments against different staff members.
Data suggest that midwives are almost universally left-wing, and inclined to be liberal and democrats. For good measure, midwives, by and large, are staunchly pro-choice, not a position associated with the political right.
Another fraud case is against Juli Mazi, a naturopath in California. Mazi allegedly gave patients “COVID-19 homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets,” but filled out official cards saying they had received the vaccine. Naturopaths almost definitionally exist as an alternative to the medical establishment, and their approach is aligned with a “holistic” or nature-based worldview typically associated with the far left, or, at the least, simply outside our traditional political alignments. It’s hard to view Mazi, who has Facebook posts that say “Hug trees, clean the seas, save the bees,” as right wing.
Julie DeVuono, a nurse practitioner, who worked at Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare, in Long Island, New York, was indicted for selling forged vaccination cards and making false entries into the state’s vaccination database. DeVuono is a “natural medicine oriented pediatric nurse,” who has advocated for cupping treatment while at an acupuncturist’s office—again, not exactly the profile of a typical right-winger.
This of course is not a systematic review of all vaccine fraud cases. But in the random sampling of court cases I reviewed it’s hard to argue that “anti-vax” sentiment—erroneously defined by the media as being against Covid vaccines or simply Covid vaccine mandates—was exclusive to the right, as much of the media narrative portrayed it to be.
Beyond the horseshoe theory of politics, many who opposed vaccine mandates, in particular for children, were neither far left nor far right, but independent from the American political binary—this would include plenty of European governments.
Second, beyond dispelling media narratives, the legal documents from some of the vaccine fraud cases reveal a troubling allocation of law enforcement resources. A vaccine fraud case in Utah involving a plastic surgery center hinged on the involvement of multiple undercover agents.
According to the indictment, the government’s cost of doses that the center received was $28,028. Some might wonder whether these financial stakes are worthy of the federal government devoting the resources of undercover agents and an extensive legal battle.
Another case, against a defendant who resides in Colorado, also involved undercover agents.
Undercover operations, involving recorded calls, were used in the Juli Mazi case as well.
This isn’t to say the government does not have an obligation to prosecute fraud. Only that the resources for these sting operations and legal battles against the Covid vaccine card schemes could have been used for any number of other healthcare crimes of far greater magnitude. For example, medicare and medicaid fraud is estimated to cost in the billions-of-dollars each year; there is more than $1 billion in telemedicine fraud annually; and phantom billing, upcoding of services, duplicate claims and so on all cost in the billions.
Julie DeVuono, the Long Island nurse, and one of the more successful vaccine fraudsters, allegedly made $1.5 million from her illegal activity. But relative to the big players in healthcare grift, for the feds to focus on DeVuono is the equivalent of using undercover agents and aggressive prosecution for a street corner pot dealer instead of a drug kingpin.
One may argue that the prosecutions of the vaccine card frauds happened not solely or specifically because of the financial stakes, but rather that the harms from the crimes here are societal, in the form of making fellow citizens less safe. Indeed, this assertion was made in many indictments. But a look at the dates of some of these cases immediately disproves that line of argument. The plastic surgery case, the Van Camp case, and other cases cited actions as late as spring 2022. This was long after it was widely known that the vaccines did not stop infection or transmission, which was the only ethical and logistical justification for mandates.
This raises the third, most important issue: the mandates were so feared and loathed by significant and diverse numbers of citizens that they were willing to become criminals rather than comply. (Even among the distributors only some of them appeared solely motivated by money. Many cited philosophical opposition to the mandates as their motivation.) Just the smattering of cases I reviewed represents thousands of regular citizens who felt compelled to fake their vaccination status.
Perhaps some portion of them had already been infected and knew what many European governments had acknowledged, and what has been a basic truism in immunology over centuries—that for many viruses past infection tends to confer robust protection. The US was fairly unique in not allowing “natural immunity” to substitute for being vaccinated. (A salient side note: many of the state requirements for the pediatric vaccine schedule—for MMR, chickenpox, and so on—specifically make exemptions to the vaccine requirement if the child had prior infection.)
Or some of them did not want their kids vaccinated, knowing the risk of Covid to them was negligible, on par with many other viruses—a fact that many European countries acknowledged in their recommendations against pediatric Covid vaccination. The Utah plastic surgery clinic gave saline shots to children to fool them into thinking they were getting the Covid shot, a sad deception to avoid children bearing the burden of criminality.
In my landmark investigative piece on a church in California that was sued by Santa Clara county for not complying with various Covid-related orders, I detailed how regular, law-abiding citizens felt forced to become criminals because they did not want to follow rules that profoundly infringed on their personal liberties. Rules, it is important to note, that had no evidence of actually making society any safer. The same was manifestly true with the vaccine mandates.
It’s a fascinating comment on America that the fraud was so rampant, and among varied groups of people. Clearly, a large number of citizens, on both the right and the far left, and in between, did not want to get vaccinated and were willing to lie about it.
The prevalence of people with fake cards calls into question the effectiveness of mandates. And it also suggests a lack of wisdom by health professionals to understand the consequences of interventions. Requiring individuals to have a medical product injected into their bodies that they so strenuously did not want that they were willing to commit fraud in order to give the illusion of compliance were bound to cause far more indignance and distrust than officials had planned for.
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