Coronavirus

Health-Care Workers Are Bragging on TikTok About Forging Vax Cards

Before she wiped her page on Tuesday, TikTok user hann.brooke95 hadn’t been shy about sharing even the most mundane details of her life with her 19,400 followers.

She posted TikToks of herself cooking while breastfeeding, the can of beans she was using for nachos, and even the painstaking process of transferring her license as a pharmacy tech from Florida to Illinois: from filling out the application, to affixing a return address label and stamp on the envelope, to dropping it in the mailbox in front of her house.

And the stream of everyday minutiae might have continued if she hadn’t also used TikTok to brag about stealing COVID-19 vaccination cards from her job so she and her husband could pass themselves off as vaccinated.

“I work at a pharmacy and grabbed blank ones for me and my hubby,” she wrote in the comments of another user’s TikTok about fake vaccination cards.

It didn’t take long for fellow users Becca Walker and Savannah Sparks to zoom in on that return address label and match the name and address to public records for Hannah Brooke Hutchinson, 25, who is registered as a pharmacy tech in Illinois. Sparks then reported her to the same Illinois Board of Pharmacy that had just granted her license. The Illinois Board of Pharmacy told The Daily Beast it does not comment on investigations.

“I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to steal from your job. And I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to steal blank vaccination papers for COVID-19 to falsify information and claim that you and your husband were vaccinated when in actuality you were not,” Walker said in a TikTok she posted to call her out.

Hutchinson did not respond to multiple phone calls and texts sent to numbers associated with her and her boyfriend. But after Walker and Sparks posted TikToks about her, Hutchinson wiped her TikTok and deleted her Instagram and Facebook accounts. The Daily Beast, however, was able to review the zoomed-in image and independently confirm Hutchinson’s details, including her pharmacy technician license, through public records.

Just before she wiped her TikTok, she posted: “Stop hating on me! I don’t care what any of you think. I did what is best for my husband and I.” Hours later she posted another TikTok claiming to be a 16-year-old girl in the U.K. doing an experiment for her dad, who is a filmmaker. But the TikToks, which went back a year, tracked with her husband’s Facebook page, which has also been deleted, where she appeared to be a mom in her twenties.

“Very sick people come into pharmacies, so when you have a pharmacy employee lying about being vaccinated, everyone there is at risk,” Sparks, herself a pharmacist in Biloxi, Mississippi, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t want them in the profession.”

But Hutchinson is far from the only health-care professional seemingly trying to fake her way into the vaccinated world, a trend that could have huge implications for the vulnerable Americans these employees serve.

Since Monday, Walker and Sparks have, combined, posted more than half a dozen TikTok videos calling out health-care workers who’ve talked online about forging or attempting to forge vaccine cards. And they say other users have sent them dozens more tips they haven’t been able to verify.

I’m just sitting here flummoxed, thinking about the implications of it all.

Dr. William Schaffner

“It’s overwhelming,” Sparks said. And public health experts warn it’s incredibly dangerous.

“I’m just sitting here flummoxed, thinking about the implications of it all,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “Anyone who works in the health-care environment obviously contributes to the safety of the environment, which is their own safety, their colleagues’ safety as well as the patients they serve.”

He said those caught doing it would likely lose their jobs, if not their careers.

“We’re trying to make the whole health-care environment a COVID-free zone and by undermining that in a deliberate fashion, that’s beyond unprofessional. It’s profoundly unethical and contrary to whatever oath a health-care worker took when they accepted their degree. I would imagine there would be implications at the licensing level.”

But fear of professional reprisal hasn’t kept some health-care workers from turning the taboo topic of vaccine hesitancy into clout-chasing fodder.

Under Hutchinson’s original comment about pinching blank cards, Texas nurse Courtney Long wrote, “Can I pay you to ship a couple to me,” followed by a crying-laughing emoji. Sparks was able to identify Long through the Instagram profile Long included on her TikTok, where she talked about being a nurse, and a linked Facebook profile, under the name Courtney Renee Long, where she also talked about being a nurse. The Texas Board of Nursing’s website identifies a Courtney Renee Long as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

“Is this you, Miss LPN?” Sparks said in a TikTok she made calling out Long. “Ah, yeah, the Texas Board of Nursing is gonna see all of this.”

Sparks said she reported Long to the Texas Board of Nursing. When contacted by The Daily Beast, the board said it does not comment on investigations. The Daily Beast made a number of attempts to reach Long, through a number associated with family members’ phone numbers and Pinterest, the only social media account in her name that still existed as of Saturday. Calls to a number associated with her name and address were not returned.

Sparks and Walker say they have also called out and reported an oncology nurse in Alabama, a trauma nurse at a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, and a receptionist at an asthma clinic.

If it seems surprising that vaccine resistance would exist among medical professionals, even those with a strong background in science, Schaffer said it simply highlights how many Americans are still resistant to vaccination, more than three months after the first jabs went into the arms of frontline health-care workers. In February, a survey conducted by experts from Northwestern, Northeastern, Rutgers and Harvard universities found that 21 percent of health-care workers surveyed did not want to be vaccinated. Hesitancy, which indicates skepticism towards the vaccine but not an outright unwillingness to be vaccinated, was 37 percent.

“There’s a large number who are not just indifferent but disdainful to the vaccine, they’re just not going to get it. And that’s the remnants of a political approach to COVID under the last administration,” Schaffner said. “It’s hard to unring that bell.”

Of course, health-care workers aren’t alone among anti-vaxxers trying to pass as vaccinated and, on Thursday, the Office of the Inspector General warned those who’ve been vaccinated to not post images of their vaccine cards online because of an increase in fake cards.

As more Americans get vaccinated, anti-vaxxers have turned to social media to drum up fears of a Biden-governed future in which those without vaccination cards will be turned away from restaurants, hospitals and even Target.

“If they’re giving out a card to verify you’re vaccinated apparently there’s a reason for it. You might not be able to go shopping, to travel, to buy underwear,” TikTok user truevalor469 posted from a recliner earlier this month. “Hmm. Sounds like the beginning.”

The backlash against Walker and Sparks’ crusade to uncover anti-vaxxer health-care workers on TikTok has been harsh. On Wednesday, Sparks changed her phone number after another TikTok user found it and began harassing her. The threats were so bad that on Friday, she had to issue a statement on her business website and shut down the reviews section.

So far there are no government requirements to have a vaccination card, and Schaffner said he hasn’t heard of any private companies requiring them for either their employees or customers. Yesterday, Rutgers University in New Jersey became the first college to require students to be vaccinated but Schaffner said fears, widespread as they may be, are for now exaggerated.

“By misrepresenting themselves they just avoid a lot of controversy,” he said. “So they’re doing this reprehensible thing to avoid discomfort and having to explain themselves and be responsible for their actions.”

Walker said she suspects some of the users may not be as serious about faking their vaccinations as they are about chasing the clout that the taboo topic brings.

“If you put up a TikTok saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get vaccinated. Sell me a vaccine card,’ that’s an automatic 100k views,” Walker told The Daily Beast.

One TikTok user by the name linds3r commented on a viral TikTok about faking vaccination cards, writing, “I got a template if u want it” and, later, “lol I (have) made 8 of them so far front and back.” That user, Lindsey Stauffer, says on Facebook that she is an employee in medical billing at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She also makes and sells anti-Biden and pro-Trump shirts from her Facebook page, which includes several of the same images from her TikTok.

Reached by The Daily Beast, Stauffer admitted to writing the posts but denied she’d made eight cards.

“I didn’t write about making them. I said I know where you can get one. You can go to Google right now and pull up images about it yourself,” Stauffer told The Daily Beast. “I’m not making anything. Anyone can access it.”

Stauffer also denied living in Lebanon, though the phone number used to reach her lists that as her address. She denied working at the VA despite listing it as her employer on Facebook. (The federal Department of Veterans Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) Stauffer also said she had been vaccinated already.

“So why would I need to make them?” she told The Daily Beast.

But even when medical professionals joke about forging their vaccination, Schaffner said, it can create problems.

“When people hear that health-care workers are doing this, it undermines the faith the public has in these institutions and their ability to keep them safe,” Schaffner said.

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