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Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards Are a Safety Threat. Here's How to Spot Them

COVID-19 vaccination card

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Key Takeaways

  • While it may be hard to authenticate CDC's COVID-19 vaccination card, try checking the dates of vaccination and handwriting for any signs of forgery.
  • Businesses can adopt a multi-layered approach by enforcing masking and social distancing in addition to vaccine mandate, experts say.
  • It is a federal crime to create, sell or buy a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine card with the seal of a U.S. government agency.

With more vaccine mandates in place, the small white vaccination card can be essential for gaining access to many spaces.

Federal agencies released paper cards as proof of COVID-19 vaccination in December 2020. They are meant to help partially vaccinated people remember when to get a second shot and serve as a record for fully immunized individuals.

To skirt the mandates without actually receiving the shot, some are fabricating vaccination cards or turning to the black market for counterfeit cards.

“It's very easy to fake—it doesn't require rocket science to replicate,” Robert Quigley, MD, DPhil, senior vice president and global medical director at International SOS, tells Verywell, adding that the cards are made of paper and don’t include a photo of the card carrier.

Across encrypted messaging apps, social media platforms, and black market sites, users are selling forged vaccine cards for as much as $200 a piece, according to an Associated Press investigation.

In July, a homeopathic doctor in California was arrested on charges that she sold patients “immunization pellets” and provided customers with fake COVID-19 vaccination cards saying they had received the Moderna vaccine. In some cases, she gave patients blank cards and instructions on how to fill them out with a fraudulent Moderna vaccine lot number.

A California bar owner was arrested in May for allegedly selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards for $20 a piece.

“If we've got people out there that are falsifying their status, and in the absence of any other mitigation policies or procedures in place, we run the risk of there being spreading events and vectors,” Quigley says. “It's unfortunate, because there may be some innocent lives that are lost.”

How to Check for Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards

Federal agencies released a public service announcement in March urging people not to buy, sell or create fake vaccine cards. Creating a fraudulent document featuring the seal of an official government agency is a federal crime that is punishable with a fine and a maximum of five years in prison.

The FBI also recommends against posting images of your vaccine card to social media sites because others may use your personal information to commit fraud.

In lieu of a universal vaccine passport, it is often up to individual institutions, businesses, or localities to determine how they will check for vaccination status.

Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and nutritionist at Truism Fitness, tells Verywell that there are several tell-tale signs of a fabricated vaccine card. Employees at her gym check that all information fields are filled out and that the date of the person’s supposed inoculation aligns with when the specific vaccine was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

T. Tashof Bernton, MD, an internal and preventative medicine physician at Colorado Rehabilitation and Occupational Medicine, tells Verywell via email that it may be a red flag if the card is fully printed, as most vaccine providers around the country seem to fill in the patient’s information by hand.

Additionally, since the two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are distributed weeks apart, the shots are often administered by different people. Be cautious if the handwriting for both fields is the same, Bernton adds.

When in doubt, the facility that issues the card may be able to provide more information on the card’s correct format, he says.

What This Means For You

It is illegal to forge a COVID-19 vaccine card. Entering a space for vaccinated people with a fake card may increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. If you are concerned about the possibility of sharing a space with someone who may be dishonest about their vaccination status, experts recommend wearing a mask and social distancing to stay safe.

Curbing COVID-19 Spread With a Multi-layered Approach

The Biden administration has said that there will not be a single, standardized way to prove vaccination status in the United States. This means it is up to individual states, localities and institutions to determine how they will distinguish vaccinated individuals from the unvaccinated.

Some are creating apps to help people more easily and securely access spaces where vaccines are required. For instance, New Yorkers can use Excelsior Pass to access their digital proof of vaccination, which checks against the state database. At some of the 675 colleges and universities requiring COVID-19 vaccination, students must only upload an image of their CDC vaccination card to their student portal, the AP reported.

When it is challenging to verify individuals’ vaccination status, Quigley says institutions or businesses can use a multi-layered approach to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“We know that social distancing works. We know that masks work. We know the vaccines definitely work, but we can't assure ourselves that somebody walking into our facility is carrying a fraudulent card or a real card, so we go back to those measures that we know work to help mitigate against the spread of this virus,” Quigley says.

With the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, he says it’s especially important that people take all available precautions to avoid the evolution of more dangerous viral variants.

“You throw in another variable, like fake vaccination cards, and you're just muddying the waters,” Quigley says. “You're just creating more anarchy in a situation where we don't need anarchy. We need structure, and we need hope.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. The U.S. Department of Justice. Women Arrested for Fake COVID-19 Immunization and Vaccination Card Scheme. Justice.gov. July 14, 2021.