New York City's Department of Sanitation is investigating allegations that employees used fake vaccination cards to maintain their employment, the department confirmed to CBS News on Monday. All municipal workers in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19, or will be placed on unpaid leave, according to a city-wide mandate announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month.
"These are very concerning allegations and we take them very seriously – getting vaccinated is important to public health, and we do not tolerate anyone faking something that is a requirement of City employment," Joshua Goodman, the department's assistant commissioner for public affairs, told CBS News via email. Goodman said anyone found to have faked their vaccination will be suspended without pay.
Goodman did not say how many employees were being investigated, but noted that over 87% of the department's roughly 10,000 employees are either fully or partially vaccinated.
Most city employees — including police officers, firefighters, trash haulers and building inspectors — had a November 1 deadline for getting the first vaccine dose, de Blasio said. The city had previously mandated vaccines for public school teachers and hospital workers.
But according to a department source who spoke with CBS New York, at least 50 employees claimed to have received the Johnson & Johnson shot at CVS locations on Staten Island and in Brooklyn — but the locations they claimed gave them the shot were not administering the Johnson & Johnson brand.
The department informed the Department of Investigation of the matter, Goldman said. In an email to CBS News, a spokesperson said the department of investigation "is aware of allegations involving the issuance of bogus vaccination cards," but declined further comment.
CBS News has also reached out to the mayor's office and the sanitation workers' union and is awaiting response.
Making, buying or using counterfeit COVID-19 cards is a crime. The U.S. Department of Justice has a COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, established by the attorney general in May, that works with several agencies to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.
In July, a California doctor was arrested for allegedly falsifying COVID-19 vaccination cards to make it appear like customers had received the Moderna vaccine, according to the DOJ.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it seized fake vaccine cards shipped from China in August, in what the agency said it was the 15th such shipment that night. Inside were "51 low quality, counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards," the agency said.
Officials at dozens of colleges and universities are also concerned about students using fake vaccine cards, the Associated Press reported.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The CDC recommends eligible Americans ages 5 and up get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.