photo of a woman with a covid mask on her forehead clapping at an anti-vaccination protest in Ankara, Turkey

At an anti-vaccination protest in Ankara, Turkey

Carl Karlsson and Clémence Guimier

Countries are rolling out increasingly aggressive campaigns in an international effort to vaccinate the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks ago, Italy became the first European country to make COVID-19 health passes mandatory for all workers, while others, including the U.S, France and Hungary, have mandated vaccination for federal workers or healthcare staff. Meanwhile, rules and laws are multiplying that require full vaccination to travel or enter movie theaters, restaurants and other indoor activities .

But with the increased pressure comes increased resistance: From anti-vaxxer dating to fake vaccine passports, skeptics are finding new — and sometimes creative — ways to dodge mandates and organize against their governments. Here's how people around the world are getting around vaccination rules:

Diversion and delay

In Italy, where the government recently approved a new measure to make digital vaccine certificates compulsory for all employees, strategies to circumvent the signing of a consent form are multiplying. According to Italian daily La Stampa, skeptics are bringing lawyers to vaccination appointments, demanding the doctor to sign off on guarantees that the vaccine is safe, or demanding that the meeting be videotaped.

Meanwhile, others are claiming to be allergic to vaccines, undergoing immunosuppressive therapies or suggesting they've had previous vaccine reactions like anaphylactic shock. Many are also using delay tactics: calling in sick for vaccination meetings, not responding to appointment requests or claiming to not have received notification.

The mandatory requirement stipulates that any worker failing to present their health vaccine certificate will be suspended without pay for up to five days but will not be fired. The move came shortly after the country reported more than 4.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 130,000 deaths in mid-September.

Protesters for and against COVID-19 mandatory vaccines in Canada— Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/ZUMA Press

Faux vaccine passports

A recent study by Check Point Research shows that fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates as well as test results of 29 different countries are being sold on Telegram. In India, the largest market for the popular messaging app, a fake vaccination certificate sells for $75, with prices having dropped by half since March 2021, India Times reports.

According to the study, counterfeit certificates were at the beginning of the year mainly advertised on the dark web but have since shifted to social media with its much broader consumer base. Since March, Check Point Research has spotted over 5,000 Telegram groups selling fake documents.

In the US too, customs agents in Memphis have seized multiple shipments of low-quality counterfeit vaccination cards sent from Shenzhen, China, to Tennessee. At first glance, the cards looked authentic, but a closer look revealed typos and incorrect translations from Spanish. While Memphis isn't the only place these counterfeits have been intercepted, officers in the city have seized more than 100 similar shipments this year, totaling more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards.

In France, some anti-vaxxers having a change of heart are finding themselves in a pickle. Having bribed health officials an average of $290 to receive a fake certificate, getting an actual jab is impossible as the fake passport is already on file in the person's real name, Liberation reports. As such, the only way to immunity is to confess the crime and risk up to three years behind bars.

Social media warfare in Asia

In Indonesia, one of the first countries to instate a blanket mandate for vaccination, anti-vaxxers are taking to social media to undermine government authority. According to Nikkei Asia, Indonesian authorities have removed 2,000 vaccine-related hoaxes from social media platforms. For example, a TV report with manipulated captions had a scientist saying "our people will be killed by Chinese vaccines" and that jabs "make the virus more savage" — receiving 182,000 shares before Facebook took it down.

In Japan, where a July government report found that only 45% of people in their 20s and 30s were favorable to vaccines, social media has also been riddled with misleading social media posts. Since the beginning of the 2021, 110,000 Twitter posts that were retweeted at least once suggested that getting vaccinated leads to infertility.

Some are claiming to be allergic to vaccines to avoid the jab — Photo: Maxppp via ZUMA Press

Religious exemption

Following U.S. President Joe Biden's sweeping new vaccine mandates covering more than 100 million Americans, Religious objections are becoming a widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.

Roughly 2,600 employees at the Los Angeles Police Department have already claimed religious objections to the department's COVID-19 vaccination requirement, while in Washington state, some 3,800 workers have requested religious exemptions to the mandate that workers be fully vaccinated by October 18 or lose their job.

The right to religious exemption is landing many employers in a legal gray area. As workers don't have to be part of an organized religion mandate to be considered a valid candidate, employers are rather forced to make individual assessments of the level of religious sincerity.

Of course, faith-based clashes with authorities mandating vaccination isn't a province of the U.S. alone. In Greece, a major source of opposition to vaccination are influential clerics and the power they wield from the pulpit. While the church leadership officially supports vaccination, several influential archbishops and clerics have repeatedly told their flocks not to get vaccinated, while some refuse to let people into church if they are wearing a mask or have had the jab. Last week, Greek daily Alfa Vita reported on a particularly outspoken priest calling the vaccine "the joy of Lucifer."

Unvaccinated dating 

As restrictions for travel, social life and work become increasingly stringent for the unvaccinated, some are trying to create a parallel culture with safe spaces for those who refuse the jab. Mainly proliferating on social media, people around the world are organizing dating and house shares for fellow skeptics. The messaging app Telegram has become a go-to place for anti-vaxxing activists, with the platform working as a cross-pollination vehicle for anti-vaxx, COVID denialism and broader conspiracy theories.

But there are also attempts at creating more particular spaces for anti-vaxx socializing. The dating-and-community app for unvaccinated people, Unjected, was launched in May before being removed by Apple last month in a move the app's owner labeled as censorship. In an attempt to get Unjected back on the App Store, the owner posted on its now-deleted Instagram account that certain features had been removed, including social feed and a blood bank for the unvaccinated.

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