MONTREAL -- Quebec's health ministry says it has received reports that people have been downloading COVID-19 proof of vaccination QR codes belonging to provincial politicians.

"Regarding the proof of vaccination of public figures that have been downloaded, formal complaints have already been filed with the police," the ministry stated Friday. "The appropriate authorities will investigate and determine if criminal charges should be laid."

The government says it is taking these allegations of the misuse of COVID-19 proof of vaccine data "very seriously."

Last Wednesday, Quebecers were invited to download their proof of COVID-19 vaccine using the VaxiCode app.

"We can no longer let unvaccinated people fill up our hospitals, so we must protect the health of the population," explained Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé. "We must protect our health care staff, but we must also protect our economy."

Starting Sept. 1, merchants will be required to ask anyone coming into their establishment to not only show their proof of vaccine, but also a piece of photo ID to show that the information matches.

"The QR code and the personal information it contains cannot be used without the consent of the individuals involved," the ministry insists. "Violators who fail to comply with this requirement are subject to significant penalties that may result in civil and criminal proceedings."

It advises all merchants to report any attempts to falsify documents to the police.

The information contained in the QR code includes name, date of birth and the list of vaccinations received. No other personal information, such as biometrics or financial data, is included.

"The QR code, therefore, contains less information than a driver's licence or health insurance card," the health ministry adds. "The objective was to have a tool that was easy to use for the entire population."

Quebec health officials reiterate that the QR code is a secure system, but there is still time to make any necessary adjustments or improvements before the passport comes into effect on Sept. 1.

Starting on that day, Quebecers will have to show their proof of vaccine in order to access various non-essential services in the province.

The decision to implement a vaccine passport is part of an effort to curb the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.