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August 12, 2021

Why it's so hard to prove you've been vaccinated (and 3 tips to make it easier)

Daily Briefing

    As people are more frequently asked to prove their vaccination status, many are wondering why CDC's vaccination cards are so inconveniently sized—and brainstorming ways to more conveniently verify their vaccination status.

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    'Vaccine cards were indeed never meant to be evidentiary'

    In The Atlantic, Amanda Mull writes about people's widespread frustration with CDC's vaccination cards, which are just a hair too large to fit into wallets and therefore prone to being misplaced or lost. This drove her to ask CDC why, precisely, the organization opted for such an inconvenient size.

    CDC didn't respond to her request, Mull writes, but she hypothesizes that the inconvenient sizing indicates that the card was "designed to be a personal record that [has ended up] being used as an official license to breathe on strangers in sealed rooms."

    "There is much to suggest that the vaccine cards were indeed never meant to be evidentiary," Mull adds. For instance, she points out that in addition to the sizing—both too large for a wallet yet too small to reliably keep track off outside of a wallet—the card's template was initially publicly accessible, reflecting the United States' traditionally "light approach to keeping tabs on vaccinations."

    As a result, since CDC likely never intended the cards to be proof of vaccination that people would have to carry with them, the agency likely never gave much thought to the cards' eventual "off-label" use, Mull writes.

    For instance, citing some jurisdictions' reliance on fax machines to send data during the height of the pandemic, Jen Kates, SVP and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the cards are likely simply a leftover from CDC's more old-fashioned approach to record keeping.

    "While I don't know for sure, the size of the Covid-19 vaccine card is likely a prime example of public health being a bit antiquated," she said. "The large vaccine cards on paper are a relic from the past, and they’ve never been updated."

    Separately, Alison Buttenheim, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who has studied vaccine documentation, thinks the frustrating sizing was likely due to last-minute circumstances. "Like so much of our vaccine rollout, I'm guessing someone had to produce this in, like, eight hours," Buttenheim said. "There was not time to workshop it and focus-group it and pressure-test it and rapid-cycle prototype it."

    And Chelsea Cirruzzo, a public-health reporter at U.S. News & World Report, said the issue was likely even more straightforward than that. "I don't think it's that deep," she said. "I think someone just printed out a bunch of cards that are easy to write your name and vaccine brand on, without thinking about wallets." According to Mull, the dimensions may have been determined by the even subdivision of an existing inventory of card stock.

    3 tips to keep your vaccination card handy

    Regardless of the cards' strange size, there are some helpful practices to make sure you can show proof of vaccination when needed, writes Vanessa Romo for NPR. She recommends that to ensure easy access to vaccination status, you should:

    1. Protect your paper vaccine card. To help protect your paper CDC card from everyday wear and tear, Romo recommends laminating your card or purchasing a vaccination card holder. Some office supply stores are offering lamination services for about $3 per card, she writes.
    2. Access your digital vaccination record. Many states, counties, and cities have made digital vaccination records accessible through their department of health websites or digital state IDs, which can be stored on smartphones and computers, or printed out, Romo writes. Additionally, Apple's fall software update will allow users to store vaccination information in its updated Health app.
    3. Take a picture of the card. In most scenarios, a simple photo of the CDC-issued card will provide sufficient proof of vaccination, she adds. Similarly, you could scan a photo of the card into your Notes app on your phone, and pin the note so it is easily retrievable. (Mull, The Atlantic, 8/10; Romo, NPR, 8/10)

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