There are various ways to document that you received a coronavirus vaccine. Some people have snapped selfies proudly displaying the Band-Aid on their upper arm. Some vaccination sites are handing out stickers. But the official form of documentation is the small white vaccination record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which you receive after your first shot.
"You do want to make sure you keep it safe," says Kelly Moore, deputy director of the Immunization Action Coalition. "You do want to make a copy of it and keep that on file, not because it's the only record, but because it's the one that you control."
Here's what Moore and other experts say you need to know about the cards and what you should do after receiving one.
Q: What is the purpose of a vaccination card?
A: The primary function of a vaccination card is to serve as a personal immunization record, Moore says, much like your childhood immunization records. "These cards that you're given when you're vaccinated are important for you to keep up with because they're your personal record of what you have had and they remind you of when your next dose is due."
In its guidance on getting a coronavirus vaccine, the CDC says you should receive a card at your first appointment that tells you which vaccine you received, its lot number, the date and the vaccination site. If you need a second dose, referencing the card is a quick way for providers to make sure you're getting the right shot at the right time without having to access your electronic records. The card should then be updated with details about the second shot.
The cards also can be convenient proof of coronavirus vaccination, but experts emphasize that they are not legal documents and should not be thought of as such at this point in the pandemic.
"It is not magical. It is not the only record that exists," Moore says. Still, she notes, if you have the card, "it's much easier than having to go back to your doctor's office or to some health department to request a copy of your proof of immunization. It can save you a lot of hassles down the line if you maintain your personal copy of this official record."
Q: What should I do with my card after getting it?
A: It's widely recommended to take a photograph of the card as a backup copy and then keep the original stored in a safe place where you can easily access it if needed.
"It's not something I recommend taking around everywhere, at least not at this point, because it's not required," says Michael Knight, an assistant professor of medicine and the patient safety officer at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates. "I'd much rather you keep it with your secure documents."
Neysa Ernst, nurse manager of the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, says she keeps her card with her passport. In addition to taking a photo, also consider making hard copies of the card and keep those secure as well, Ernst says. Try to avoid losing the original or any copies and be careful about posting photos of your card on social media without obscuring your personal information.
"Your name is on there, your date of birth, the lot number of the vaccine that you receive," Knight says. "You don't want an opportunity for individuals to have personal information that they can use for identity theft or other untoward activities."
Additionally, you may want to bring your card to your next appointment with your primary care provider, Knight says. Your doctor should be able to input your vaccination information into their records, which means you will have another way to access it.
Q: Should I laminate my card?
A: Lamination could be a way to safeguard against wear and tear, but some experts have raised concerns that it may complicate updating the card if booster shots are needed in the future.
"When you get your booster dose, they can add that booster dose to your personal record, so you can keep all the information in one place," Moore says. "For that reason, laminating it might not be the best idea because it is a living record."
It is possible, though, that a new supplementary card will be issued for booster shots, so laminating the original would be fine, says William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. If you want to avoid modifying the actual card, Ernst suggests laminating a copy.
If you do choose to laminate, take care to ensure that it's done correctly and doesn't damage the card in the process. Companies such as Staples and Office Depot and OfficeMax are offering free lamination services for vaccination cards or copies for a limited time.
Q: Will I need my card to get my second shot?
While it's recommended to bring your card to your second appointment so it can be updated, don't panic if you don't have it with you. "Don't miss your appointment because you lost your card," Ernst says.
Vaccination sites and state health departments are keeping electronic records of coronavirus vaccines that have been administered. As long as you have a form of ID, the site should be able to pull up your name in their records and get you vaccinated.
"There's a lot of reporting that we're doing as health-care providers to make sure these records are accurate," says Kevin Colgan, vice president and chief pharmacy officer at University of Chicago Medicine. "Not only is it good that we have a registry with people's information, but we have a check system in place to make sure all the information is transmitting correctly."
Q: What happens if I lose my card?
First, try to go back to your vaccination site and see if they'll give you a replacement. Bring an ID and try to recall the date you were vaccinated, Schaffner says.
If you received two shots at different places, Knight recommends returning to the site where you got the second dose, which may be able to provide the information needed for a complete card. "It all depends on the processes in place at their local vaccination sites and put in place by their local health department," he says.
But there is no need to worry if you can't get a replacement card, Colgan says. "What happens is that we record all of your vaccinations in your electronic medical record that has a link to the state's vaccination registry," he says, "so you can always get a backup copy of your vaccine administrations" through your state health department.
The CDC provides contact information for each state's immunization information system on its website. How to access those immunization records differs by state, Colgan says, but you should be able to use a printout of that information in place of the card.
"The cards could be falsified," he says, "but those electronic records cannot or would be very difficult to do it."
Q: Where will I need to show my card?
A: The answer to this question is up in the air, and is much debated. "Right now, those policies are evolving, so we can't really say where people might require proof of immunization," Moore says.
New York state is the first to issue a vaccine passport, which people can show to obtain entry to sporting venues, concert halls and participating businesses, while the governor of Florida has banned them. As travel resumes, it's possible tourists will need vaccine passports, particularly for international trips. A growing list of countries are welcoming fully vaccinated American travelers and the Royal Caribbean cruise line, which has announced plans to resume some operations from non-U. S. ports, is requiring vaccines for passengers and crew who meet age requirements.
If you are traveling, you should bring your vaccination record, or at least a copy of it, just in case, Ernst says. Travel requirements are rapidly changing and it's better to be safe.
In the future, experts say, it's possible businesses could require staff to show proof of vaccination before allowing them to come back to work in-person, or that schools could add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of vaccinations required for students.
But for now, you might only need to show your card (or a copy of it) if you're trying to claim free vaccine-related promotions, such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts or beer.
Q: What is the difference between a vaccination record card and a vaccine passport?
A: The CDC card is "a simple medical record," Schaffner says. The term vaccine passport or medical passport, on the other hand, could refer toa similar physical documentation of vaccination, such as the World Health Organization's Yellow Card (Carte Jaune), as well as mobile apps where you can upload information about vaccinations, test results or health waivers.
"Your card is just a piece of paper with your information," Knight says. Oftentimes a vaccine passport is "a document that's more durable, that's a little bit more secure" or it will be electronic.
“It’s unlikely that the actual paper that you have will be the passport if that is required in the future,” he says.