When France this summer introduced the Covid-19 health pass, 25-year-old anti-vaxxer Lexa decided to circumvent the rules by buying a fake health pass on social media. Shortly after having been fraudulently registered as inoculated, she fell severely ill with Covid-19. “I was floored,” she told FRANCE 24.
Even at the height of France’s Covid-19 pandemic, when the country’s death toll was topping 500 per day, 25-year-old Parisian Lexa* never really believed in the dangers of the coronavirus. At least not for young people like herself. “For me, it was something that only affected old people. And if you were young, like me, you might have two or three symptoms to show if you caught it, but that was it.”
For Lexa, getting vaccinated against Covid-19 has never been an option. “I have plenty of reasons for why I don’t want to get vaccinated, but the main reason is that I don’t think it has been researched enough. It’s come about too fast, and in my opinion, it takes years to invent a [safe] vaccine.”
“And in any case, I’ve always been of the philosophy that if I’m supposed to die, I’ll die,” she said, noting that she was fully ready to accept the risks linked to her decision to remain unvaccinated.
But when the government this summer introduced the Covid-19 health pass – a digital certificate proving a person is either fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or has recently tested negative against it – to access public spaces such as bars, restaurants and cinemas, Lexa felt authorities had gone too far, interfering way too much in her personal life and decisions.
“I couldn’t even go to the gym,” said a frustrated Lexa, who had embarked on an ambitious weight-loss program in a bid to shed the weight she had put on during France’s three Covid-19 lockdowns.
Late night meet-up
That’s when instant messaging app Snapchat suddenly offered Lexa an “out”.
“A friend of mine told me she knew someone at the social security services and who could sell me a ‘real’ health pass, so I added him to my Snapchat contacts.” Shortly after adding the person to her network, Lexa said she received at least 10 other friend suggestions, from government agency employees to doctors, also selling fraudulent health passes.
“When you start looking for them, they’re everywhere,” she said of the fake health pass providers, adding that some of them asked her to “snap” them a real-time photo of herself “to verify I wasn’t a cop or anything” before accepting her friend request.
Fake health passes are strictly forbidden in France, with those making them risking up to €75,000 in fines and five years in prison, and those buying them up to €45,000 in fines and three years in prison.
But that didn’t scare Lexa, whose sister and brother-in-law were also shopping for fake health passes, and who finally settled on buying from a vendor who seemed to offer the best market price: €250 per piece.
After providing the person with their names, date of births and social security numbers, it was time for the transaction, which took place at night.
“The guy met up with my brother-in-law in a car and asked him to get inside with him to hand over the money. Three days later we received links to our health passes on WhatsApp.”
Floored by Covid-19
A few weeks after having bought the health pass, Lexa, who thanks to the document had finally been able to resume her long-missed gym workouts, was suddenly hit by vertigo.
“I was in the gym, working out on the exercise bike and my head started spinning so much I just had to stop. Then, when I walked down the stairs, I was so dizzy I could barely hold on to the railing.”
A PCR test revealed that Lexa had been infected with the coronavirus and developed Covid-19. The next few days passed by in a haze, with Lexa showing all the symptoms of a severe case of the illness: Fever, muscle ache, headache, loss of taste and smell, and a difficulty breathing.
“I was floored. I could only walk a few steps at a time, and for every sentence I spoke I had to catch my breath,” she recalled, noting that even a month after recuperating from Covid-19, she still hasn’t recovered her sense of taste or smell. “I would say it’s only at about 15 percent of what it is normally.”
The experience scared Lexa, who now says she has changed her mind about the seriousness of Covid-19.
“It really hit me hard, in a way I didn’t think it would. I’m not about to go scaremongering or anything by saying it’s super super dangerous [for young people], but if you’re over 40 or have another kind of pathology I think it is,” she said, adding “it probably would have taken out my mum who has a heart condition”.
Lexa hasn’t changed her mind about not getting the inoculation, however. “No, it still scares me,” she says. But even if she backtracks on the issue, her registration as “vaccinated” is likely to cause her trouble, since she would first have to come clean to a health professional who is then obliged to report the fraud.
On Wednesday, France boasted a vaccination coverage of 83.8 percent, with 48.34 million French people having been registered as fully vaccinated. But Lexa doesn’t believe in the numbers. “I know around 10 other people who have bought fake health passes too, so these statistics mean nothing to me.”