Victorian retail and hospitality staff will face increased pressure as Christmas approaches with 'freedom' groups advocating the use of a fraudulent 'vaccine control card' to avoid certification checks in stores and venues.
The cards, sourced from the UK and which have no legal status of any sort, will add to the stress of retail and hospitality staff already having to cope with elevated customer aggression levels as reported by the Australian Retail Association.
Members of the state's anti-vaccine Telegram group Awake Ballarat have promoted using the 'VaxControl Group' website to purchase the card, with one member boasting she recently used hers to bluff her way into Kmart and Bunnings, and another posting a picture of himself holding the card in a store.
The Control Group Cooperative Ltd or VaxControl Group Cooperative Ltd is a vague organisation with a business address based in a nondescript building above a car rental outlet in Dartford, England. It claims it is variously a 'control group', a 'scientific study', a 'community cooperative' and a 'global community'.
Among its directors are a building and facade specialist, a data analyst and a poet and paranormal investigator.
Its website claims 'Citizens do the science', and say the group will 'defend our inalienable rights to freedom of choice and bodily integrity.'
Awake Ballarat group organiser 'Jason' suggests obtaining the card is 'quite potent' and 'woild (sic) almost certainly stand up as a defence of good faith in court'.
(The defence of 'good faith', which has an unclear status in law, is currently under review by the Federal Attorney-General's department, and relies on parties not having an ulterior motive in pursuing a course of action.)
These people literally put more effort into faking these photos than it takes to get vaccinatedDr Neal Krawetz, hoax researcher
"This initiative is legitimate science," he writes.
Another member says 'We all have to get one'.
Vice-president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Dr Bruce Willett is unequivocal in his condemnation of efforts to undermine the state's legitimate health precautions being attempted by people such as members of Awake Ballarat.
"There are these sort of groups who think they have set themselves up as appearing scientific, and they are a problem," he says.
"The damage they do is to muddy the waters and create a controversy where one doesn't exist. Unfortunately people feel that where there's smoke, there must be fire, and sometimes there just isn't. These things are manufactured by various groups to to create confusion deliberately. That's the main problem: the deliberate confusion they create."
Dr Willett says whatever the group is, or claims to be, what it is promoting is definitely not legitimate science.
"The way they are choosing their sample is not singly or doubly blinded, they're not matched populations, all the normal things you would do to set up a scientific survey," Dr Willett says.
"They're not randomly chosen populations. Ideally, they'd double-blinded randomised, but if you can't randomise them, then you try and match populations, so their populations are equivalent. None of those things are true here. This is obviously a way for people to try and get exemptions they would not otherwise be entitled to."
The directors of VaxControl Group are a collective of English anti-vaccine activists who include in their number a data analyst, a builder, a former nurse and a poet/paranormal investigator.
Despite claiming they are not 'pro' or 'anti', members of the group maintain social media accounts which are actively hostile to health protocols and promote baseless conspiracy theories.
"We have taken it into our own hands to design a scientific Control Group by bringing together the voluntarily unvaccinated and asking them to record their health outcomes over the next 30 years," the group says.
"This data, which will NOT include names or addresses, will be made available for comparison against data from vaccinated cohorts (will need to be approved by our Ethics Panel)."
There are no named contacts for the group or 'Ethics Panel' on their website, and the British Health Research Authority told Reuters the Control Group Cooperative Ltd collection of data "could not be used for a randomised controlled trial to compare vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals."
They have no training in epidemiology or virology, and charge membership of £6 GBP ($AU11) every 13 weeks, with an initial one-off setup fee of £4 for an individual and £14 for a family.
The group also solicits donations, and openly acknowledges the card they are selling has no legal status.
Among their associates is Michael Yeadon, the former Pfizer vice-president who has spread repeatedly disproven theories about COVID and the safety of vaccination.
Dr Bruce Willett says arguments that COVID vaccines are not fully researched, tested or were rushed into release is a common untruth spread by anti-vax lobbyists like the VaxControl Group.
"The vaccines have been in development since SARS1 (2003) - this is SARS2," he says.
"They have undergone all the testing a normal vaccine would go through. The difference is they have been brought to market quicker. There haven't been any shortcuts in the testing; what they were allowed to do was to overlay some of the phases of testing. The last time I looked, there were over four billion vaccines given worldwide, and that was quite a few months ago. I challenge you to find anything else you're using in day-to-day life that's been tested more than four billion times."
Forensic researcher and author of the Hacker Factor website Dr Neal Krawetz has conducted detailed studies on fake COVID vaccination cards and vaccination tests, and is at a loss to understand why someone would go to the effort.
"It's hard to make a good fake image," he says.
"In the countries where these pictures are coming from, it's easier to get a COVID vaccination shot. These people literally put more effort into faking these photos than it takes to get vaccinated."
Dr Krawetz, whose work focuses on anti-anonymity technologies and digital abuses, conducted a 'deep dive' into the website of the VaxControl Group Cooperative, uncovering the registered base of the company is a nondescript building in Dartford, Kent.