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Chicago pharmacist, 34, charged with ‘selling more than 100 CDC-issued COVID vaccine cards on e-Bay’

A Chicago pharmacist faces up to 120 years in prison for allegedly stealing dozens of vaccine cards from his job and selling them on eBay, as cities throughout the country begin to require proof of vaccination to enter public indoor places.

Tangtang Zhao, 34, was arrested Tuesday and accused of selling 125 authentic vaccination cards, featuring the insignia of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to 11 different buyers for $10 a card – netting an estimated profit of $1,250.

Zhao was a licensed pharmacist at a company that vaccinates people at ‘physical locations nationwide,’ according to the Department of Justice.

Online records indicate he has worked at Walgreens, but the company did not immediately comment.

Tangtang Zhao, 34, was arrested today for allegedly selling authentic CDC-issued vaccination cards, seen above, for $10 each to 11 different buyers on eBay (file image)

Online records indicate Zhao worked at a Chicago Walgreens, but the company did not immediately comment

Online records indicate Zhao worked at a Chicago Walgreens, but the company did not immediately comment

Zhao was charged with 12 counts of theft of government property in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

He made his first court appearance Tuesday. 

‘Knowingly selling COVID vaccination cards to unvaccinated individuals puts millions of Americans at risk of serious injury or death,’ said Special Agent in Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. 

‘To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences.’ 

Half of the country is fully vaccinated, according to the Mayo Clinic

The number has held steady for the past two weeks, having risen only slightly from a month ago, when 48.7 percent of Americans were fully vaxxed.

About one in five US adults are ‘vaccine-resistant,’ according to polling firm Gallup. These adults wouldn’t agree to a free vaccine and are unlikely to change their minds.

Another five percent said they wouldn’t get the vaccine but are open to changing their minds about it.

Slightly less than 1-in-5 Americans are 'vaccine-resistant,' according to Gallup, meaning that they wouldn't get a COVID-19 vaccine and are not likely to change their minds

Slightly less than 1-in-5 Americans are ‘vaccine-resistant,’ according to Gallup, meaning that they wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine and are not likely to change their minds

Gallup cited three main reasons for those who don’t want the jabs: They want to wait to confirm the vaccine is safe or gets full FDA approval (18 percent), they have already had COVID-19 and have antibodies (18 percent), or they don’t trust vaccines in general (18 percent).

The white CDC vaccination cards are usually given to people right after they’re vaccinated against COVID-19 with one of the three vaccines approved for emergency use.

The alleged theft of CDC cards comes as several cities across the country introduce rules requiring customers to show proof of vaccination in order to enter dining and entertainment establishments. 

On Monday, New Orleans residents needed to provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results to enter bars, restaurants, music halls, the Superdome, casinos and other indoor facilities starting, with full enforcement beginning on Aug, 23. 

New York and Los Angeles will require residents to have at least one shot before entering indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment businesses

But LA will take it one step further and include ‘retail establishments.’

San Francisco’s mandate is even more stringent, insisting full vaccination – not just one dose – for customers and employees at restaurants, gyms and other indoor venues.

No city has given a clear indication on how the mandates will be enforced.

Some of the most populous cities in the US have begun issuing mandates to exclude the unvaccinated from indoor venues. It is unclear how they will be enforced

Some of the most populous cities in the US have begun issuing mandates to exclude the unvaccinated from indoor venues. It is unclear how they will be enforced

A New York Times report from April noted a number of sellers on Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter peddling fake CDC cards. 

One seller on Etsy, a platform focusing on hand-crafted and vintage goods, told the paper that she was helping people evade a ‘tyrannical government.’

The CDC said it was ‘aware of cases of fraud regarding counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards.’

In April, the attorneys general of Washington, DC, Iowa, North Carolina and Louisiana sent a letter to the CEOs of eBay, Twitter and Shopify asking them to take down posts marketing fake or blank CDC cards. 

‘The false and deceptive marketing and sales of fake COVID vaccine cards threatens the health of our communities, slows progress in getting our residents protected from the virus, and are a violation of the laws of many states,’ the letter said.

Last week, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James issued a warning that anyone caught using fake vaccine cards would face criminal charges.

‘As the Delta variant becomes more prominent, it is more important than ever for New Yorkers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

‘Not only do fake and fraudulently-completed vaccination cards violate federal and state laws and the public trust, but they also put the health of our communities at risk and potentially prolong this public health crisis.’ 

On Sunday, New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for a federal crackdown on face vaccine cards, demanding the CBP and FBI partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to start to put an end to the counterfeits, CBS reports.  

Cities like New Orleans now require proof of vaccination for entry into places like restaurants and gyms. Above, a masked couple visits a market in the city earlier this month

Cities like New Orleans now require proof of vaccination for entry into places like restaurants and gyms. Above, a masked couple visits a market in the city earlier this month

The FBI has warned websites like eBay and Shopify about fake or empty CDC cards being sold on their platforms. The cards will soon be required at indoor spaces in Los Angeles, above

The FBI has warned websites like eBay and Shopify about fake or empty CDC cards being sold on their platforms. The cards will soon be required at indoor spaces in Los Angeles, above

The unauthorized use of these cards, which have seals of an official government agency, is a federal crime that carries a maximum of five years in prison. 

The FBI first issued a statement about fake vaccination cards in March. 

Most are being sold on Telegram, an encrypted site that is favored among people who don’t trust typical Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Twitter

On Telegram, people can buy vaccine cards that are approved by the CDC or NHS from anywhere between $25 and $400, The Associated Press reports.

Even cities without mandates have seen a frenzy of residents looking to get their hands on fake vaccine cards. 

On Telegram, a group called ‘Texas Vaccination Card CDC’ has more than 4,000 members interested in buying fake cards and fit-to-fly certificates from anonymous sellers, Kxan, an NBC affiliate, reports.  

Another group called ‘Fake Vaccine Cards,’ has 73,122 members. 

‘Watch out and stay away from the vaccine its [sic] poisonous,’ one seller wrote on the website. ‘Get your cards without taking the vaccine and stay safe.’ 

Twitter and Facebook are controlling searches for it by directing anyone who searches ‘vaccine card’ to official government websites. 

Higher learning institutions are also worried about their students using fake cards as at least 675 colleges and universities will require proof of COVID vaccines to attend classes.

‘As with anything that potentially requires a certification, there is the possibility for an individual to falsify documentation,’ said Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the chancellor’s office at California State University. The school system, which is the largest in the nation, oversees about 486,000 students each year on 23 campuses.

Benjamin Mason Meier, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, questioned how institutions can verify the current vaccine cards.

‘The United States, unlike most countries which have electronic systems in place, is basing its vaccination on a flimsy paper card,’ he told The AP.

Meier added that he spoke with several students who knew a fellow student who had submitted a fake card to the university.

‘There need to be policies in place for accountability to make sure that every student is operating in the collective interest of the entire campus,’ he said. 

On August 13, a father and son were arrested at the Daniel K. Inouye Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii after showing fake vaccine cards to try to bypass the state’s 10-day quarantine period for incoming travelers, according to The Sacramento Bee.

‘We are not out of the woods as it relates to COVID, we are still going through it,’ Breed said. ‘Of course, we’re sick and tired of it, but it’s not sick and tired of us.’ 

In Chicago, only 48 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data, and just 52 have gotten at least one dose.

COVID-19 cases in Chicago are rising as the more contagious Delta variant spreads

COVID-19 cases in Chicago are rising as the more contagious Delta variant spreads

The Windy City lags behind other major metropolitan areas like New York City (56 percent fully vaxxed) and Los Angeles County (63 percent).

Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, has had the second-highest number of COVID-related deaths during the pandemic, according to a database kept by Johns Hopkins University. 

Chicago has seen a rise in cases as the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread. 

In Chicago, the seven-day average topped at 430 cases on August 13, up from 55 cases on July 13.  


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