Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards [Do’s & Don’ts]

Nurse holding CDC COVID 19 Vaccine Card
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Your COVID-19 vaccination record card (or at least a digital version) might soon be something you can’t leave home without! It’s your passport to being allowed to visit many countries around the world, returning to work or school at some companies and universities, and even accessing indoor dining and entertainment in some cities.

So once you get your COVID-19 vaccine, you’ll want to be sure you’re keeping the evidence safe. Here are some of the first things to do once you get your vaccine card, what not to do, and how to get a replacement card if you accidentally misplace it.

Why You Might Want the COVID-19 Vaccine

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC), the U.S. is not requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country, whether they are U.S. residents or not. The CDC also notes that fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to get tested before departing the U.S., although other countries may require it. Vaccinated travelers can travel domestically without needing to get tested or self-quarantine.

Hot Tip: All travelers (vaccinated or not) are still required to submit a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the U.S.

While it is primarily up to the individual cities, states, and even businesses to determine their own vaccination policies, new federal mandates for employers may be a factor as well.

So why should you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Well, beyond the personal and public health reasons, here is how having a COVID-19 vaccination can benefit you.

Travel

Many countries are only allowing vaccinated travelers to visit — it is literally your vaccine passport to travel. Other countries are requiring lengthy quarantine periods that can be avoided if you are fully vaccinated.

We have a comprehensive guide on where Americans can travel internationally right now (including requirements by country) that you should definitely check out before you book your next international flight.

Health Passport Travel COVID 19
Image Credit: Olya Kobruseva via Pexels

In addition, certain cruise companies, such as Norweigan Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Company, are only allowing vaccinated passengers onboard their sailings. We expect more similar mandates to follow.

Access to Events and Entertainment

Yelp just announced it will allow users to use a new filter to find local businesses by “Proof of vaccination required.” This just goes to show that more and more restaurants, bars, and event spaces are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter.

To start, some venues have started opening back up — but only for vaccinated fans. For example, many NBA arenas have had a special section specifically for people who have been vaccinated. And if you want to go to a game at Madison Square Garden, you’ll have to show proof of either the vaccination (or a negative COVID-19 test) before entry.

Bars in San Francisco are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry, while a huge list of Los Angeles restaurants and all New York City restaurants will require at least 1 dose of the vaccination to eat indoors.

School Mandates

Colleges have already started to require vaccination in order to return to campus. For example, Rutgers University announced that students returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester must be vaccinated. There are some exceptions to this — like exemptions for medical or religious reasons, as well as students taking online classes.

For the ever-expanding list of colleges requiring vaccinations, check out this guide from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Work Mandates

Similarly, news of employer-mandates vaccinations is starting to increase coinciding with the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19.

Employers are allowed to require proof of vaccination as a legal condition of employment, and more than a dozen large U.S. corporations, including Walmart, Walt Disney, Google, Facebook, Tyson Foods, Uber, and United Airlines, have recently announced vaccine mandates for some or all of their workers. Other employers, like American Airlines and Delta, are offering incentives (like extra time off) for employees who get vaccinated.

In the federal and state government area, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccine. Members of the U.S. military will also be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination starting in September 2021 (or earlier if the vaccine is fully authorized by the FDA).

On a state and local level, California said it will require all of its health care workers and state employees to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination (or get tested weekly). NYC will require all of its municipal workers (including teachers and police officers) to show proof of a COVID-10 vaccination by mid-September 2021 (or get tested weekly) as well.

What To Do When You First Get Your COVID-19 Vaccination Card

After receiving your first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should receive a CDC vaccine card that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it. Here are some steps you should take once you get your card.

Take a Picture

Snap of picture of both the front and the back of your COVID-19 vaccine card. This is a good place to start because even if you wind up using another digital record option, it’s always nice to have a backup. Put the photos in a dedicated space so you can access them quickly if needed.

Here’s how to do that:

  • For Your iPhone: Open the Notes app, create a new note and title it something you’ll remember. Next, under your header, click the camera icon and select Scan Documents. Let your camera scan an image of your vaccination card, then click the button in the center of the bottom of the screen to capture an image. Your iPhone should recognize this as your vaccination card and will automatically save your note.
  • For Your Android phone: Start by downloading Google Drive (this method will also work for iPhone users!). Once you open Google Drive, find the Add symbol, then the Scan symbol. Let your camera scan an image of your vaccination card, then save your document by tapping Done.

Store the Physical Card Somewhere Safe

If you want to make sure your card doesn’t get wet, torn, or otherwise damaged, consider slipping it in a 4×3 protective case like this one from Amazon:

At the very least, be sure you keep your COVID-19 vaccination card somewhere safe — similar to a place where you’d store other important documents like your birth certificate and Social Security card.

Put It on an App

If you want to take a step up from a screenshot, digital vaccine passports allow you to scan your card onto your phone so you have access at all times. You will need to upload images of your CDC vaccine card along with your government ID and manually type in details about where and when you got your shots. Here are a few free options:

  • Airside Digital Identity — Once you upload your information, you’re given a digital version of your card that lives inside the app — with no scannable QR codes.
  • AOKpass — This app is used primarily by employers to provide a secure and portable copy of an employee’s medical records. It is only accessible by the individual employee.
  • VaxYes — This app converts your card into a QR code that you can use anywhere you might need to provide proof.

Download an Official Digital Health Record

The benefit to an official digital health record is that it can’t be easily faked. This is because these records are pulled directly from the pharmacy, state records, etc., and can take the form of a link to your pharmacy’s website or a QR code you download.

Now states are offering portals to download fully authenticated vaccination information, and more are on the way. Millions across the U.S. have access to digital records from Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens, as well as healthcare providers using medical records from Epic and Cerner.

Clear Digital Health Pass
Image Credit: CLEAR

Here are a few state or healthcare-sponsored options:

Hot Tip: The iPhone’s Health app will soon be able to hold vaccination records starting with this fall’s iOS 15 update.

What Not To Do When You Get COVID-19 Vaccine Card

Here are a few important things to skip once you get your vaccine card.

Don’t Laminate It

We know you want to keep your card safe, but you shouldn’t laminate your COVID-19 vaccine card. This is mainly due to concerns about being able to use your card to later document a booster COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Don’t worry — if you’ve already laminated your card, you can always request a new one!

Don’t Put a Selfie Online

We know it’s tempting, but by putting up a selfie of you with your card, you could expose personal information that’s written on there — for example, your date of birth and the location of your vaccination site.

How To Show Evidence of COVID-19 Vaccination

As we noted above, there are a ton of ways to store evidence of your COVID-19 vaccine. But how do you show evidence when you need to? In short, this technology is still evolving, and there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach right now. Places are making up their own rules about what they’ll accept as proof and changing them as needed.

Domestically, Washington State’s guidance notes that “originals, copies or photographs on a mobile device are acceptable.” So, depending on the method you’ve used to digitally store your card, you might show a picture of your card, pull up a unique QR code, or simply have a screen that notes whether or not you’ve been fully vaccinated.

If you are traveling internationally, you might be required to upload evidence of your vaccine card to the airline’s app or portal, obtain an EU Digital COVID Certificate, or some other method. You’ll have to check each country’s requirements to confirm before travel.

Ultimately, if you’re heading somewhere really important, you still might want to carry that physical card with you just in case.

So why bother going digital in the first place? Well, a hostess or bouncer can scan an app a lot quicker than they can validate paper cards and airlines often require evidence to be submitted electronically. It’s also easier to lose a single piece of paper than an app on your phone. Lastly, digital records can also protect your privacy by passing along only the required information (vaccinated or not) instead of all the personal stuff listed on those CDC vaccine cards.

What To Do if You Lose Your COVID-19 Vaccine Card

Here are some tips to ensure you have proof of vaccination — even if the original paper evidence gets lost. These recommendations also apply if you never got a vaccine card as well.

Contact Your Original Provider

Your first point of contact should be with the place you got your original shot — meaning CVS, Walgreens, your local pharmacy, etc. They should be able to provide you with a copy of your card. If you got your shots at 2 different locations, this means that you’ll need to reach out to both providers!

Contact Your State Health Department

If you attended a mass-vaccination site run by the state or local government or you simply can’t get a hold of your original provider, try contacting the health department for your state. All vaccinations are reported there, so it should also have a copy of your vaccination record.

Hot Tip: If you call the CDC directly, it will not have individual information about COVID-19 vaccines.

Don’t Get a Fake COVID-19 Vaccine Card

Whatever you do, don’t make or pay for a fake vaccine card. The unauthorized use of the seal of an official government agency (such as the CDC) is a federal crime that carries a possible fine and a maximum of 5 years in prison.

And it’s not just the U.S. fines that you need to be worried about! Recently, 2 travelers from the U.S. were fined CA$20,000 trying to enter Toronto after they provided “false information related to proof of vaccination and pre-departure coronavirus tests” to Canadian officials.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, having proof of vaccination is becoming more necessary in order to travel, work, and play. The good news is that there are a lot of options when it comes to safeguarding your proof of vaccination. You can simply take a photo, store it in an app, or even bring your paper card with you.

If you do happen to lose your card, be sure to reach out to the place where you got your shot(s) or your state’s health department to get a replacement.


Frequently asked questions

How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine passport?

Once you get your COVID-19 vaccine, you should receive a piece of paper from the CDC that shows the date of the shot(s) and where you received them. This card acts as your vaccine passport. You can bring the physical card with you, take a photo, or upload this to an app.

Regardless of the option you choose, you’ll need to provide proof in order to do many things — like travel internationally or eat indoors in certain places.

Can an employer ask for proof of COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, employers are allowed to require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a legal condition of employment.

There are limited exceptions to this, including people who can’t get a vaccine because of a disability or conflicting religious beliefs. These individuals may be required to adhere to strict guidelines — including regular COVID-19 testing, masking, and social distancing requirements.

What happens if you lose your vaccine card?

First, reach out to the place you got your original shot — meaning CVS, Walgreens, your local pharmacy, etc. They should be able to provide you with a copy of your card.

If you can’t contact them or you attended a mass-vaccination site run by the state or local government, contact your state’s health department directly. All vaccinations are reported there, so it should also have a copy of your vaccination record.

Do you have to be vaccinated to travel internationally?

Some countries are only allowing fully vaccinated individuals to visit. So, depending on where you want to travel, you might be required to be vaccinated. Check out our article on Where Can Americans Travel Internationally Right Now? [Requirements by Country] for more details.

There is no federal mandate in place that returning travelers must be vaccinated, so this is entirely dependent on the country you’ll be visiting.

What is a vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport provides evidence that you have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Some cities, employers, universities, restaurants, and even countries are requiring proof of vaccination.

Your vaccine card acts as your vaccine passport so you can go back to work, eat indoors, travel internationally, and go back to school.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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1 comment

  1. Any German pharmacy can use a US CDC vaccination card and passport to generate an EU-standard COVID certificate, including QR code, which you can then upload to a number of apps.

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