Hang on to that COVID-19 vaccination card -- it's important

Tuesday, March 23, 2021
I got the vaccine. What's next?
After you receive the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, what can you safely do? An infectious disease specialist answers your questions.

Proof of vaccination may allow us to begin resuming our normal activities in the near future.

Photos that display the COVID-19 vaccination card like a badge of honor have been making the rounds on social media for months, but the card is more than fodder for selfies, it could be your ticket to freedom in the coming months -- so it should be protected as such.

The precious paper card contains vital information including the brand of vaccine you received and the dates you were immunized. According to public health experts, it's crucial to keep that information handy in case you need it to prove your vaccination status, or to streamline possible future booster shots.

Vaccination records can likely eventually be replaced if they are lost or damaged, but it is especially important to take good care of your vaccination records during this pandemic, when the country's health care systems are stretched thin.

"A vaccination card is a tool that people can use to declare that they have some level of protection against COVID," said John Brownstein, Ph.D., an ABC News contributor and epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital. "Being able to assess immunity to COVID is a critical part of trying to resume our daily lives."

"What these little cards have the potential to do is to make something like international travel easier by avoiding requirements for quarantine or testing," Amesh Adalja, M.D., FIDSA, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told ABC News.

The logistics around how a "vaccine passport" would work are still up for discussion. "Nothing has been put into place yet," said Adalja.

Even so, the COVID vaccination card is hardly the first of its kind. Some countries, for example, require proof of vaccination for yellow fever, and many public and private schools require that the children enrolled be fully vaccinated.

All vaccinations administered in the U.S. should have a paper trail, but if your vaccine card can help you navigate through our new normal, you may want to treat it with care.

Below, our specialists answer common questions about the COVID-19 vaccination card and how it may be utilized moving forward.

Why is it important to keep your vaccination card?

"It's important for people to have a record of which vaccine they received and when they got their shots," Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's global health committee and an emerging leader in biosecurity at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told ABC News. "It's your proof that you got your vaccine."

Although vaccine studies are still ongoing, the vaccine brand and lot number in your card may be relevant when the time comes for a booster dose, she said.

"Whether it's school, entertainment venues or travel, there's going to be an expectation that to resume these activities you have to be retested and enter quarantine or produce proof of immunization," said Brownstein.

What if I lose my card?

It is possible to get a duplicate blank card, but you'll need to fill it out with your vaccination information. Luckily, both the facility and the state where you received your vaccine should keep those records.

According to Adalja, "you should go back to where you got vaccinated," and if that doesn't work, you have another option: call your state's department of health, which also keeps a record.

Every state has an immunization database, explained Kuppalli, but that data is not shared across state lines.

Some national chains, like CVS and Walgreens, also promise to have apps that show vaccination records if you received your vaccines with them.

What should I do with my card once I have it?

Kuppalli suggests that her patients take a picture of the card on their phones. Brownstein agrees, adding that the card should then be stowed away for safe keeping along with other important documents, like social security cards or passports.

Also, because cards have identifying information -- like your name and birth date -- think about concealing that information if you post a selfie with the card online.

Will vaccination records be digital in the future?

Several private companies and organizations are developing secure apps that will use an individual's vaccination records to verify COVID-19 immunity -- rather than having people rely on a fragile piece of paper forever.

International standards will need to be established before a digital "vaccine passport" can be accepted around the world. It's "going to take some work," said Brownstein, but multination organizations like the World Health Organization are thinking through these challenges.

What should I make of online ads claiming to sell vaccination cards?

Public health officials have serious concerns about fraud when it comes to these cards, which is another reason digital verification may be important for the development of vaccine passports.

You should never purchase a vaccination card online -- even seemingly-reputable sources are peddling a fraudulent product.

Is there any reason I wouldn't want a record of vaccination?

Your local public health department already keeps a record of COVID-19 tests and vaccination status under lock and key, so shredding that vaccination card won't earn you any extra privacy.

And in the "new normal" as we emerge from the pandemic, the vaccine card might just be your "ticket back to normalcy," Brownstein said.

Leah Croll, M.D., is a neurology resident at NYU Langone Health and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.