NSW police investigate alleged Covid vaccination booking scam | Vaccines and immunisation

The New South Wales police cybercrime squad is investigating a “selfish and sickening fraud” after money was apparently exchanged for Covid-19 vaccination appointments at a major hospital in Sydney.

AAP understands people on the Chinese language social media app WeChat were asked to pay $300 to secure a quick turnaround booking for Pfizer at the Royal Prince Alfred hospital, in Sydney’s inner west.

The NSW police minister, David Elliott, on Thursday described it as “probably the most selfish and sickening fraud case that you could have occur during a pandemic”.

“A number of people have been attempting to gain profit using the anxieties of members of the public to get a vaccine earlier than is necessary,” Elliott told reporters.

Police were called in over the weekend and the state’s cybercrime unit set up a strike force.

A police spokesperson told AAP that members of the public had attended the hospital for “fraudulent vaccination bookings”.

“Police have been told the fraudulent bookings were made through an online vaccination booking service under allocations for essential healthcare workers,” the spokesperson said.

About 60 people who were ineligible for priority bookings made appointments for jabs meant for healthcare workers over the weekend, NSW police say.

A “small number” paid for the bookings, Supt Matthew Craft said on Thursday.

The issue was uncovered after people were asked to verify their status as essential healthcare workers and could not do so.

Craft said somebody had accessed the online booking system and changed the employment status for the 60 people.

Police have not yet identified who is behind the scam but are investigating whether a health staffer could be involved.

“We’re not able to attribute blame to a particular person at this time … Certainly we believe that somebody that is familiar with the online system has been involved,” Craft said.

Elliott reminded members of the public that Covid-19 vaccinations are free.

AAP and other media outlets have previously reported that booking links intended for priority groups have been used in NSW by people who are not yet eligible for Pfizer, though not in exchange for money.

“When individuals are making members of the public pay for a vaccination process that is free, this is a crime,” Craft said.

“Members of the public … are entitled to receive the vaccination, but it is about priority, and they need to be truthful when they apply online.”

Th prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced later on Thursday that the vaccination program would be opened to 16-to-39-year-olds from 30 August, meaning they will be able to access Pfizer.

NSW Health has been contacted for comment.

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