Several dozen New York City workers have been suspended without pay as a part of an investigation into the use of fake vaccine cards at the Department of Sanitation, a city official with knowledge of the investigation said.
The investigation will include a thorough review of vaccination records to determine how widespread the fraud might be, said the official, who was not authorized to comment on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The development is the latest in a protracted debate over the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers.
The mandate took effect on Nov. 1, and roughly 9,000 city workers who had not received the shot were placed on unpaid leave, with thousands more applying for exemptions on medical or religious grounds. In the past month, vaccination rates have risen across city agencies, particularly in places like the Fire and Police Departments where opposition to the mandate had taken a strong hold.
The Department of Sanitation garnered particular attention for a single-day increase of nine percentage points — taking its ranks to 76 percent vaccinated from 67 percent almost overnight, according to City Hall.
“Very encouraging progress,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, tweeted on Oct. 29.
The possibility that some of those vaccinations might have been fraudulent has shaken the department. A vast majority of the roughly 10,000 sanitation workers — over 87 percent — have received at least one shot, according to a city spokesman.
“These are very concerning allegations, and we take them very seriously,” Vincent Gragnani, press secretary for the sanitation department, said on Sunday. “Getting vaccinated is important to public health, and we do not tolerate anyone faking something that is a requirement of city employment.”
He confirmed that the department was “actively investigating this situation,” in coordination with the city’s Department of Investigation.
The investigation department said that it was “aware of allegations involving the issuance of bogus vaccination cards” and declined further comment.
The allegations were first reported in The New York Post on Saturday. It remains to be seen if criminal charges will be pursued. New Yorkers have been criminally charged for creating or using fake vaccine cards.
Harry Nespoli, president of the Teamsters Local 831 union representing sanitation workers, said that the investigation was still in its early stages, and he was not yet sure how many workers might be involved.
“It could be 50, it could be 15,” he said. “Everything has to be proven.”
Mr. Nespoli has been a critic of the mandate, arguing instead for a testing option. He said that while the union disavowed any falsification of records, it would defend its members.
Source: NY Times