News

4 Ways to Prove Your COVID-19 Vaccination Status

A young Black woman in a car holding up her phone with has a "Certificate of verification" for her COVID vaccine status.

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Apps and wearables can make it easy to show proof of your COVID-19 vaccination status, but experts warn that they pose potential security risks.
  • Paper cards are also vulnerable to fraud, and some countries may not accept them as proof.
  • Other options, such as keeping a photo of your vaccine record card on your phone, might be simpler and safer.

For the 174 million Americans that are currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19, safeguarding their vaccination card is of the utmost importance. As more employers, shops, restaurants, and venues start demanding to see proof of vaccine status, people are looking for the easiest and safest way to keep that proof on hand.

New ways to prove your vaccine status are popping up daily. Vaccine passports, apps, and wearables have all emerged as possibilities.

But are these new apps a safe way to store your information? Is it better to just keep your paper vaccine record on hand? Verywell asked experts to weigh in.

Drawbacks of Carrying Your Physical Vaccination Card

You might assume that the original paper COVID-19 vaccine record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) given to you when you got your shot is the safest bet for proving your vaccine status. However, Mark Williams, a certified cyber security instructor at the SANS Institute, tells Verywell that while the cards are official, they are also easily forged.

"There is very little verifiable information available on the card itself," Williams says. "It is easy to change the name on a card to prove vaccination status, as in some cases, people are validating the card without even reading the information on it."

Considering how easy it is to forge records, some countries that require vaccine proof are instituting additional requirements. Some won't allow travelers to enter without a negative COVID test (even if they have a vaccine card) and others are asking for a note from a traveler's physician.

Still, Williams says that this protocol has its problems, too. "In my view, if the CDC card could be fraudulent, then why would a letter be any different?" Williams says. "There is no reason to carry around extra paperwork."

Williams also notes that a doctor's note puts your information and your physician's information at risk. "More is not always better," Williams adds. "It is important to reduce our footprint of information whenever we can."

But Are Mobile Apps Better?

Many apps have popped up in the last few months to replace paper cards. Some simply display a photo of your actual card or a QR code that leads to the stored information.

While they might be convenient, Ferdinand Hamada, managing director of MorganFranklin Consulting's healthcare cybersecurity practice, tells Verywell that the apps may have major security flaws since they were rushed to the market.

"Because of the speed of delivery of these platforms, some do not meet HIPAA requirements and lack adequate data safeguards," Hamada says. "Any data transferred over the internet runs the risk of interception by cybercriminals."

Adherence to one type of app is a good first step, but Hamada says that there is no standardization regarding the information that can be included nor in terms of how it is secured—since there is no federally mandated system.

"As many companies, governments, and open-source software groups are all attempting to tackle the problem, there are concerns about a lack of a standard approach that would make it possible to carry around just one pass," Hamada says. "Apps would need to pull and verify your vaccination records in an easy, safe, and controlled format. Wide adoption would require the majority of countries, airlines, and businesses to agree on one (or two or three) accepted standards."

Williams says that the most private and secure apps keep it simple with a checkmark to illustrate a user's vaccine status without revealing personal health information to every person or entity that asks for it.

According to Williams, the remaining challenge is who has access to the information needed to verify your status and how that information is stored.

What This Means For You

As cities and countries begin to require proof of vaccination for entry, you'll need to find a way to keep your information secure but easily available. Experts advise due diligence before choosing an app for this purpose. When considering apps, find out where your information will be stored and who will have access to it. As a failsafe, keeping a photo of your vaccination card on your phone is a low-tech but secure option.

Your Verification Options

Considering the potential security risks, there are currently four options to prove your vaccination status outside of the proprietary vaccine passports that are required by individual locations.

Paper Cards

Experts advise making a copy of your card and keep the original in a safe place.

But stay away from laminating your card. While laminating can help protect it in the long run, doing so precludes the option of updating it if you get a booster shot.

Photos on Your Phone

Williams says that simply snapping a photo of the front and back of your card is just as effective—and arguably more secure than—uploading your information to an app.

The information is all there, and there's no information transmitted to a secondary location in the cloud space.

Apps

There are many app options to help you organize your vaccination record, including:

When you're looking at each app, check to see if there are security features included. Many apps, such as Clear and VeriFly, are travel-oriented and endorsed by specific locations or airlines.

Before you take a trip, look at your destination for travel-specific stipulations.

Some apps offer more extensive functionality, such as displaying your other medical conditions, test results, and a virtual health record.

Even with an app, many international locations still require visitors to upload negative test results, a copy of their vaccination card, or a doctor's note into their proprietary passport system.

Wearables

As for wearables, the Immunaband offers a simple solution to the problem of what to do if your phone dies or you're not able to take it with you.

The simple rubber bracelets have a QR code that displays your vaccination information only when it is accessed with a PIN. The vaccination record itself is stored in a HIPAA-compliant database to ensure safety. Only people who have access to the QR code through the wearer can see the information.

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.

Was this page helpful?