People not vaccinated against Covid-19 are using an unrecognised medical study to reportedly evade virus restrictions and provide information on their status that amounts to a potential criminal offence.
“Associates” or members of the VaxControlGroup, a self-described, long-term study of unvaccinated people, are issued with a card stating they “must not be vaccinated” and are research participants.
The National has found that the cards have been used to incorrectly claim on passenger locator forms that the holder is taking part in a medical trial that has been clinically approved and therefore is exempt from self-isolation rules on entry into the UK.
Clinical trials in the UK need to be approved by the Health Research Authority. The HRA has not approved the VCG as a clinical trial, nor has the group applied for approval.
On its Telegram channels, the VCG freely admits its card is not recognised.
“The cards grant no legal exemptions at this time, so we can’t offer any guarantees that it will help with travel restrictions,” wrote one administrator.
Yet, one of the VCG’s Telegram chats is dedicated to “success stories” that reportedly celebrate its use at venues demanding proof of vaccination.
An administrator repeatedly writes that they are “particularly interested” in “travel, quarantine and border” success stories.
One user, who recently returned to the UK's London Gatwick Airport and stated she was exempt from isolation “due to clinical trials”, wrote: “When passing through customs, the border force person highlighted this when checking my passport. I presented the image of my VCG card, which she viewed quickly.
“I suggested she scan it if she wanted more information … it was a very pleasant transaction and she just waved me through.”
Another writes of visiting a concert hall in London's Hammersmith: “During the check in, I pulled out my card, they looked at it and just let me in. I feel really confident now! Result!”
A Leeds United football fan claimed he had his season tickets taken away for refusing to send his vaccine status. Emailed by the club to explain how he could have it returned, he said he responded: “After refusing this and telling them they were discriminating against me, I sent them a pic of my VCG card, explaining I was part of a worldwide group and that if they scanned the QR code they would see my participation.
“My next email simply said, ‘Hi, I will unlock your season ticket today'."
The man had previously posted on Facebook about the “grown men and women being controlled and that I thought they were wimps and sheep”.
The unvaccinated at much greater risk of dying and being admitted to intensive care if they contract Covid-19.
“Vaccinations remain one of our best defences against Covid-19 by preventing infection and saving lives,” a UK government representative told The National.
“Members of the public should ensure they’re accessing legitimate sources of information on vaccinations, such as information provided by the NHS. It is an offence to make, supply or offer false evidence of Covid-19 status which is false or misleading.
“The NHS Covid Pass is a safe, secure and free way for individuals to share their Covid-19 vaccination record, and all UK residents, including participants of approved clinical trials, are able to prove their vaccination status through national certification.”
An estimated 4.5 million people aged 18 and over in the UK have not had a first dose of the vaccine. Typical reasons include concerns over effectiveness, side effects, distrust of the authorities and misinformation.
This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong".
England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty said “the great majority” of those who were in intensive care and unvaccinated were “not anti-vaxxers in the ordinary sense with some really weird ideas” but had been taken advantage of by those seeking to misinform them online.
The VCG describes itself as an “independent, long-term study that is seeking to provide a baseline of data from unvaccinated individuals for comparative analysis with the vaccinated population, to evaluate the success of the Covid-19 mass vaccination programme and assist future research projects”.
In its mission statement, the VCG says it is a “team of passionate individuals, working together as a co-operative, to staunchly defend our inalienable rights to freedom of choice and bodily integrity".
After registration, participants are asked to report any medical events, “particularly when related to Covid 19 symptoms and/or testing”.
But by becoming an “Associate” — paying £24 a year in the process — new members are entitled to the card that has been used to evade restrictions.
The most recent count on Telegram states there are 194,000 participants in the programme, 35,000 of which are Associates.
“As a co-operative, our project is funded by our valued worldwide associates, who are encouraged to guide us in steering this project forward and expanding ways we can legally protect our freedoms and prevent medical discrimination,” says the group’s mission statement
“We are doing this with love to protect the future of our families, children, friends, neighbours and all of humanity. If we don't do it, then who will?”
Despite describing itself as a study, the majority of the conversation on the VCG's question-and-answer Telegram channel is related to the cards — how to get them, how much they cost and if they will can be used for travel. When asked about the latter, administrators will often remind users that the card “grants no legal exemptions” before referring them to the success story group.
One user asks to be pointed to the “’script’ we should be using” to explain the card when asked.
Statements and articles shared on the Telegram group include those titled “How to Effectively Wake Up Your Friends and Family” — referring to convincing loved ones about the dangers of the Covid-19 vaccine — while another asks for testimonies from the more than “390,000 people living in the UK who have been injured” by the vaccine.
The VCG say they are working hard to have the study officially recognised, with an announcement expected later this month — but provided no more information.
The National has contacted the VCG, Leeds United, Gatwick Airport and the Hammersmith Apollo, but had not received a response to the information provided at the time of publication.