- Currently, the only type of “proof” of COVID-19 vaccination available in the U.S. is a small printed paper card given out when someone receives the first dose of the vaccine, which is used to coordinate the type and timing for the second dose.
- As more venues begin requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a new business has blossomed selling either blank cards or fraudulent cards that are made to look authentic.
- As some urge electronic digitization of vaccine records to avoid the potential for fake print vaccination cards, others argue that protection of medical privacy should take precedence.
The official “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” is a small lightweight paper card that includes the insignia for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is printed with spaces to manually fill in the name and date of birth of the recipient, the date(s) the COVID-19 vaccines were given, the name of the health care professional who administered the shot or site of vaccination, and the type and lot number of the biological product injected.1
Government officials have stated that federal government workers will be not be required to get COVID-19 vaccine or disclose whether they are vaccinated,2 although employees who refuse to answer a question about their vaccination status may be required to wear a mask or engage in social distancing. Many corporations are beginning to require proof of vaccination for employment3 or entry into businesses, but some states have passed laws that ban vaccine passports.4
Currently, the only kind of vaccine verification product or “vaccine passport” in the U.S. are the paper cards documenting COVID-19 vaccination status.”5 Paper cards are relatively easy to reproduce and have become a bone of contention between those who want to exercise voluntary informed consent to being vaccinated without being punished for the decision made, and those who insist that everyone must get vaccinated or be denied employment, education and entry to public spaces.
Blank COVID-19 Vaccination Cards Selling on Amazon
Before any alarms were sounded, blank card templates were available legitimately on several state websites. According to a spokesperson for the Missouri state department, “Initially, it was included on our vaccinators’ resources web page because there were times when providers would not receive enough cards with the vaccines, especially when additional doses were being drawn before larger ancillary kits were made available.”6
On Amazon, packs of blank COVID-19 vaccination cards were selling for $12.99 and were reportedly available on numerous other websites, ranging from Etsy, which primarily sells home made crafts and vintage products, to the dark web, commonly thought of as an online forum for questionable or even illegal activities.7 As it became clear that the cards were being used to establish proof of COVID-19 vaccination in unvaccinated people, public officials changed their stance.
Public Authorities Respond in Force
In a public service announcement released on Mar. 30, 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned the public “to be aware of individuals selling fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards and encouraging others to print fake cards at home.” The announcement stated that creating or using fake cards is illegal and punishable under a number of laws:
Individuals may use fake vaccine cards to misrepresent themselves as vaccinated [and] we strongly encourage businesses, schools, places of worship, and government agencies to follow CDC guidance and continue to maintain social distancing and use personal protective equipment.8
In April, members of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) sent letters to the CEOs of several platforms where the counterfeit cards were sold, including eBay, Twitter, Shopify and OfferUp, urging them to take action against people who were selling the fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards.9
Arrests Begin, Though Criminal Charges Still Rare
So far, not many involved in the distribution or use of the cards have been charged with a criminal offense. One California bar owner was arrested after undercover agents with the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control were able to repeatedly buy phony COVID-19 vaccination cards and witnessed the bar’s employees cutting out the cards and filling them in, using different colored pens to make the cards look authentic.10
A (now former) employee at CVS pharmacy in Long Island, New York, was also arrested for stealing blank vaccination cards with the intent to sell them to students “share them with family members and friends, so that they could go into venues and possibly even use them at schools.”11
Government Surveillance Versus Right to Medical Privacy
New York State Senator Anna M. Kaplan, who sponsored a recently passed bill making it a felony to create or possess the fraudulent cards, said:
We’re already seeing anti-vaxxers spread tips online for how to create fake cards in order to get around vaccination mandates, and we need to put a stop to this effort to defraud the public so that our recovery from the pandemic can keep moving forward.12
The market for fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards is increasing as more and more places begin requiring proof of vaccination for entry or participation, and as schools and corporations are insisting on proof of COVID-19 vaccination for employment or education. Needing to provide such proof presents a challenge for the approximately 25 percent or more of Americans unwilling to risk being injected with the still experimental COVID-19 vaccine.13
Although the COVID-19 vaccination cards themselves are easy enough to fake, actual vaccination data are also registered online, so the counterfeit cards are unlikely to work for many applications. There has been a push by some to electronically digitize vaccination records in lieu of relying on the paper cards. Still others, such as digital privacy advocate Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative activist at the digital rights nonprofit corporation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that COVID-19 vaccine tracking systems present a threat to medical privacy. He said, “Setting up massive systems for tracking folks, collecting their information, and then with no kind of exit plan, how is that data going to be treated?”14
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1 Berg S. 6 things to tell patients about their COVID-19 vaccination card. AMA June 11, 2021.
2 Yoder E. Biden administration tells federal agencies they should not require employees to be vaccinated to work on site. Washington Post June 9, 2021.
3 Asymkos S. Here are the companies requiring employees to get vaccinated. Yahoo! Finance May 25, 2021.
4 Davis E. These stats have banned vaccine passports. U.S. News & World Reports June 1, 2021.
5 Tressler C. Scammers Cash In On Confusion Over Vaccine Verification Methods. Federal Trade Commission May 28, 2021.
6 Collier K, Collins B. Pro-Trump Web Forums Are Abuzz With Directions To Forge Covid Vaccine Cards. NBC News Apr. 29, 2921.
7 Diaz J. Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Are Being Sold Online. Using One Is A Crime. NPR June 8, 2021.
8 If You Make or Buy a Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, You Endanger Yourself and Those Around You, and You Are Breaking the Law. FBI Public Service Announcement March 30, 2021.
9 Bipartisan Coalition of Attorneys General Fight Unlawful Sales of Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards. National Association of Attorneys General Apr. 1, 2021.
10 Bowman E. California Man Arrested In Suspected Fake COVID-19 Vaccine Card Operation. NPR May 8, 2021.
11 Durkee A. Fake Vaccine Cards On The Rise: CVS Employee Arrested For Stealing Them. Forbes May 14, 2021.
12 Diaz J. Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Are Being Sold Online. Using One Is A Crime. NPR June 8, 2021.
13 Durkee A. Fake Vaccine Cards On The Rise: CVS Employee Arrested For Stealing Them. Forbes May 14, 2021.
14 Collier K, Collins B. Pro-Trump Web Forums Are Abuzz With Directions To Forge Covid Vaccine Cards. NBC News Apr. 29, 2921.