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How COVID-19 Vaccination Cards Work

COVID-19 vaccination record card.

EJ Hersom / Department of Defense

Key Takeaways

  • Vaccination cards provide information about when a person was vaccinated, which vaccine was received, and when the next dose is due. 
  • Currently, there are two vaccines for COVID-19 authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
  • Vaccine cards should not be conflated with vaccination passports. They are used as reminders to get vaccinated and help healthcare professionals administer the correct second dose.

The country is now distributing the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use. Both vaccines require two doses. To help keep track of the shots, vaccination cards are being issued across the country. 

Vaccination cards are part of the vaccination kits developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense, and Operation Warp Speed. The federal government is sending them to medical providers and pharmacies.

The cards, printed in both English and Spanish, will list information about the COVID-19 vaccine dosages a patient has received and the date it was administered, as well as by whom.

According to Suzanne Pham, MD, FAAP, medical director of the COVID-19 response team at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, vaccination cards also serve as helpful reminders for people to get their second dose. “The person who [is administering] the vaccine will put the expected date to remind the [recipient] of when they’re going to be expected to come back for their second shot,” Pham tells Verywell. 

What This Means For You

To stay up to date about COVID-19 vaccine approvals and authorizations, you can check out the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine update here. As more doses of the vaccines are distributed, check in with your provider about receiving a vaccination card.

Do They Work?

Vaccination cards are traditionally used to help parents keep track of their child's vaccinations. Research shows a vaccination card can be especially beneficial for parents and their children because it provides information about a child’s vaccination schedule and informed consent documents for available vaccines.

“It’s great because it’s pretty old-school," Pham says. "And it reminds me of my kids' own immunization records and being able to keep track of their vaccines that way."

The vaccination cards will be distributed to where vaccines are administered, such as the doctor’s office or clinic, Shaun Truelove, PhD, assistant scientist at John Hopkins Departments of International Health and Epidemiology, tells Verywell. They can also be distributed “in places where they have supplemental immunization campaigns,” Truelove says. 

While vaccine rollout is underway, Pham cautions people against likening vaccination cards to "vaccine passports." Vaccination cards shouldn’t be used as evidence that people can enter spaces, especially without a mask or practicing social distancing. “These vaccine cards are not meant to be a passport of any kind," Pham says. "People cannot expect these cards to be used as proof that they are safe to enter into a business."

One caveat of a vaccination card is that people might misplace the physical copy, losing information about the type of vaccine they received and when their next vaccine is due.

According to Pham, knowing which vaccine you received and when you need the next dose is essential, because different vaccines cannot be mixed. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, for example, are not interchangeable. According to Pham, although they both are mRNA vaccines, they likely will not provide the same sequencing to produce the desired immune response.

For optimal immunity, the same vaccine should be administered for both doses given to recipients.

Although there is uncertainty about whether there will be federal, state, or local laws about vaccination cards, Truelove envisions that they will be used in schools and the healthcare setting. 

Maximizing Vaccine Card Usage

Because we live in a digital era, Truelove thinks there will be better ways to maximize the usage of vaccine cards with digital methods. “Most hospitals and different healthcare settings are going to require vaccination, just like they do with influenza," Truelove says. "Hopefully, we have electronic ways of maintaining this."

Moving forward, vaccine cards, along with methods of vaccine tracking, will become crucial.

According to a Pfizer press release, the vaccine’s efficacy rate is 95% at seven days after the second dose. This means that the ultimate protection against the virus will not be achieved until at least 28 days after the initial vaccine. Receiving that second dose will be crucial for immunity.

In a press release, Moderna announced that its vaccine efficacy rate is 94% at 14 days after the second dose. This is 42 days after the initial dose of the vaccine.

“Hopefully, [a vaccine card] will help people remember both when they need to get their next vaccine, as well as serve as an indication that they already received their vaccine as we push towards getting the whole population vaccinated,” Truelove says. 

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. COVID-19 product information. Updated December 20, 2020.

  2. Department of Defense. Vaccine record card.

  3. Wagner AL. The use and significance of vaccination cards. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2019;15(12):2844-2846. doi:10.1080/21645515.2019.1625647

  4. Pfizer. Pfizer and BioNtech conclude Phase 3 study of COVID-19 vaccine candidate, meeting all primary efficacy endpoints. Updated November 18, 2020. 

  5. Moderna. Moderna announces primary efficacy analysis in Phase 3 COVE study for its COVID-19 candidate and filing today with U.S. FDA for emergency use authorization. Updated November 30, 2020.