Italian police have arrested a nurse in Palermo for allegedly pretending to give Covid vaccines to anti-vaxxer activists so they could benefit from official health certificates to travel and access bars, restaurants and public transport in the country.
Investigators used a hidden camera to film the nurse, a 58-year-old woman working at an inoculation centre in the Sicilian capital. The clip, released on Saturday on Twitter, shows the health worker apparently loading up a dose of Covid-19 vaccine and then emptying the syringe into a tissue before pretending to inject it into the arms of anti-vaxxers.
Police said the woman’s own booster dose was fake and arrested her on charges of forgery and embezzlement.
It is not the first time a nurse has been arrested in Italy for pretending to inject Covid vaccines. Dozens of health workers, including at least three doctors, have been charged or investigated on suspicion of administering fake jabs to people in recent months, with some paying up to €400 (£330) each for the service.
Last Wednesday, an Italian nurse in Ancona in the Marche region was arrested for allegedly giving fake Covid vaccines to at least 45 people. The health worker allegedly emptied vaccines into a medical waste bin.
According to investigators, anti-vaccine protesters were willing to pay up to €300 for the service in order to receive the so-called “super green pass”, introduced by the Italian government last December and required to access cinemas, gyms, nightclubs and stadiums, as well as to be served indoors at bars and restaurants.
Daily case rate per 1m, last week average
The nurse arrested on Friday in Palermo is the second health worker from the same hospital in the city to end up in prison. On 21 December, Sicilian investigators uncovered another alleged scam with dozens of anti-vaccination holdouts, including a police officer, paying a nurse up to €400 to give them fake jabs.
The woman, who faces charges of corruption and forgery, recently pleaded guilty and began to collaborate with authorities by revealing the details of the scam and the names of her accomplices. The woman told investigators she injected fake vaccines because she needed money to support her son at university. The nurse also confessed to providing anti-vaxxers with fake certificates with negative Covid swab results.
“We have uncovered the dark and fraudulent plots of these diehard, no-vax people who do not hesitate to break the law,” the Palermo police commissioner, Leopoldo Laricchia, said in a statement. “This investigation also shows how, unfortunately, there are still unvaccinated health workers who work in hospitals in close contact with patients.”
As countries in Europe scramble to impose stricter rules to halt the outbreak of the Omicron variant, increasing numbers of anti-vaxxers are attempting to skirt the law to obtain vaccine passports.
Early in December, in Biella, a town close to Turin in the northern Piedmont region, a man turned up for his Covid-19 vaccine wearing a fake arm made of silicone. After completing the bureaucratic formalities, including signing a consent form in front of a doctor, the man, a 50-year-old dentist, sat down and lifted up the sleeve of his shirt as he prepared for a health worker to administer the jab.
But after taking a closer look and touching the arm, the nurse asked the man to take off his shirt. His plan foiled, he then tried to persuade the health worker to turn a blind eye.
The Omicron variant accounts for more than 80% of coronavirus cases in Italy as the daily number of new infections has begun to fall in recent days. Rome is expected to reach 95% vaccine coverage by May.