What counts as Covid vaccine certification?
April 7, 2021 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm double dose vaccinated and did so through New York City. I got the card with the dates and the lot number of my doses, but is this really considered a "certification" of vaccination? A handwritten card?

I'm seeing places like Iceland that will let in tourists if they can certify vaccination, so what is certification? I've searched the NY health department web site and can't find any information about printing out a certificate or something that seems more official than a hand-written card. I have emails from the board of health confirming that I followed through with my appointments. Right now I have the card and the emails printed and locked in my firebox because this is the only proof I have. Are we just not there yet? I know vaccine passports are the hot culture war topic of the moment, so maybe it's just too soon? I'm not looking to go anywhere, but I'm also one of those people who just wants to have everything settled and locked away in my box for safekeeping for future use when needed.
posted by archimago to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There’s the digital excelsior pass for NY state...that’s all I’m aware of. I’m also in NYC with a spouse in healthcare. Haven’t heard anything else.
posted by bxvr at 1:15 PM on April 7

I believe it’s as simple as that card

NYT link
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:15 PM on April 7

Yes, that little vaccine card is currently your proof of vaccination. I'd take pictures of it/photocopy it, etc., but you should be able to get it re-issued from your vaccine provider if need be. Office Depot/Staples are offering free lamination (maybe still?).

Here's an article about it.
posted by brainmouse at 1:16 PM on April 7

Response by poster: Not thread sitting -- should have clarified -- I have Excelsior but that seems to be a NY-based thing. I actually live in CT but work in a school in NY and got the vax in NYC.
posted by archimago at 1:17 PM on April 7

Can you communicate your vaccination record to your doctor so that your covid vaccine is part of your larger medical/vaccination record? That way if some definitive proof is needed (for a visa, etc.) it could come from your doctor and not from some handwritten card. I'm sure it's different with every health care provider, but my large HMO in California has a section in my online medical record where I can enter my vaccine type, lot number, dates, and upload a scan of the CDC card.
posted by niicholas at 1:25 PM on April 7

Yeah, my HMO also provided a space online to submit my vaccination record, though they didn't ask for the card to be uploaded. I had to go in there for a different shot a few days after my first one and they said to bring the card in next time I have to go in for anything.

I got mine at Walgreens and they said they would have an electronic record of it as well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:41 PM on April 7

One of the reasons I’ve seen given for not putting up an image of your vaccination card on Instagram is that because a lot of people are going to show up with This is an image of my card, I don’t carry the original with me, that someones will be unscrupulous enough to scrape those off the internet and sell them to MAGAs and anti-vaxxers who don’t want to get vaccinated, but don’t want to be excluded from public life because of that.

My recommendation is go onto Amazon an search for “3x4 vaccination card protector”. Get the kind with the ziploc for water resistance and the clip it to a lanyard so it’s harder to lose track of.

DO NOT laminate the card in case it needs to be updated in the future.
DO keep an image/photocopy in case you lose it. But go out of your way not to do that.

Treat that handwritten, jankety card as if it were a passport. Treat the loss of it as if it were the loss off your passport in a foreign country.

Assume that this has all been a horribly ill-planned rolling clusterfuck that will eventually get sorted out, but that for some unknown period of time that half-assed piece of handwritten bullshit might have to be treated like we’re living in the 19th century and that’s your for-real government pass.

I’m lucky enough to have an organized healthcare provider that prints out clearly legible stickers to put on our cards. Not everyone is so lucky.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:42 PM on April 7 [11 favorites]

Are you sure that your record doesn't appear in Excelsior? It seems to check the NY vaccination database, which I think tracks all the vaccinations given in NY state.

One of the reasons I’ve seen given for not putting up an image of your vaccination card on Instagram is that because a lot of people are going to show up with This is an image of my card, I don’t carry the original with me, that someones will be unscrupulous enough to scrape those off the internet and sell them to MAGAs and anti-vaxxers who don’t want to get vaccinated, but don’t want to be excluded from public life because of that.

Moral panic. The unbelievable simplicity of faking such an image (assuming no electronic record to check it against, which is of course the problem) means no one need bother "stealing" anyone's image.

I'd still hang onto that card like grim death, though.
posted by praemunire at 2:08 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]

Another reason not to laminate the card: labels may be printed on thermal paper and will turn black in the heat of the laminator.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:23 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]

Below are the requirements for a Covid vaccination certificate to be accepted for entry to Iceland (per the example in your question). I imagine the health ministries of other countries will have similar info available.
Certificates may be in paper or electronic format. Border control will evaluate whether a certificate is valid and will consult a representative of the Chief Epidemiologist (health care worker) as needed. The final decision of whether a certificate is valid is at the discretion of the Chief Epidemiologist. If a passenger presents a document that is deemed invalid, i.e. if any of the necessary requirements are missing, the passenger must, as other arrival passengers, undergo double testing with quarantine in between tests and stay in a designed quarantine facility if applicable.

A vaccine certificate is required to include the following:

• Be in Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English or French. A document in another language can be valid if the original document accompanied by a certified stamped translation in one of the languages required.

• First name and last name (as in travel documents).
• Date of birth.
• Name of disease vaccinated against (COVID-19)
• Where and when vaccination(s) was/were performed (date(s)).
• Vaccination must be complete; see below the required doses for full vaccination for each vaccine.
• Issuer of the certificate (supervising clinician/administering centre), with signature and stamp if the International • Certificate of Vaccination.
• Vaccine or vaccines administered.
• Manufacturer and batch/lot no. of vaccine for each dose.
posted by theory at 3:03 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]

Following on to what theory mentioned about "with signature and stamp if the International Certificate of Vaccination", this is what the yellow fever certificate looks like, i.e. pretty much the same as the COVID vaccination cards, just with an expectation of some sort of official-ish stamp rather than the clinic name. Why the CDC didn't choose to use the yellow card, I don't know, as it can be used for things other than yellow fever.
posted by hoyland at 3:57 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]

The card being used in the US seems to not have been intended as any proof of vaccination. It's a record for the person's own use to eg, keep track of when your second dose is due, and for possible later booster doses to work out when you'll take those.

Why did they not develop something that can be used as proof? The US does not have a national vaccine registry for one thing.

Comparing my own card to Iceland's requirements, it probably fails to meet at least 3 of them.
posted by joeyh at 7:59 PM on April 7

I'm a vaccinator, handing out those cardboard cards with the lot number, date and vaccinating entity - in my case at an independent pharmacy. These cards are all we have. Take care of them! With vaccination sites expanding to include independent pharmacies, i.e. not CVS or Walgreens with hefty IT departments, this is what we have. I personally have vaccinated thousands of people who could not get appointments at the giant sites. The variants make rapid vaccination even more urgent and I'm there to do what I can.

I already advise people to take photos. Really, if we get into the weeds with forcing people to produce ever-more-ironclad evidence of vaccination we will exclude a huge crowd who managed to get doses outside of the governmental arena. They are just as vaccinated than the crowd vaccinated by FEMA, and no less worthy of travel to Iceland or elsewhere.

Dare I suggest that this is yet another side effect of the Trump administrations foisting the entire Covid problem on the states? No national standards means no national documentation.
posted by citygirl at 8:59 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]

With vaccination sites expanding to include independent pharmacies, i.e. not CVS or Walgreens with hefty IT departments, this is what we have. I personally have vaccinated thousands of people who could not get appointments at the giant sites.

Doesn't your state have a vaccine registry? Most states do now.
posted by praemunire at 9:42 PM on April 7

The recognition of certification problem you mention is global. Here in Hong Kong, there is widespread reluctance to get vaccinated because nowhere Hong Kongers usually travel (Japan, Thailand, China, Korea, Taiwan, etc.) has opened its borders to quarantine-free tourist visits from vaccinated people, including Hong Kong. This means that even if you are vaccinated here and visit a country like Iceland or Georgia that is admitting vaccinated travellers, you'll still have to deal with a 21-day hotel quarantine at your own expense when you return home, which is unaffordable for nearly everyone here.

The end of this article from today's South China Morning Post, our biggest English-language newspaper, goes into some of the problems of letting "vaccinated" people in:

- Which vaccines will we accept? How much is this based on science and how much is this based on politics? Sinovac and BioNTech/Pfizer are both offered by the government here, but Sinovac is barely above the WHO threshold of 50% for efficacy, while BioNTech/Pfizer is far, far more effective. Yet China will only accept, right now, vaccines manufactured in China (that is, Sinovac), and so it is politically hard to imagine the Hong Kong government putting harder conditions on Chinese visitors with Sinovac than, say, Americans vaccinated with BioNTech/Pfizer.

- How do we certify that someone's vaccination record is real? The article mentions that one professor here suggests a "vaccine certification and a validation mechanism that [is] recognised worldwide" (i.e., vaccine passports) as a condition for "opening up", but such a mechanism doesn't exist, and we're already open to people who are willing to undergo multi-week quarantine and truck drivers and people on government business and a bunch of other exceptions.

- Do we treat vaccinated travelers from places like Brazil, where the pandemic is raging, the same as travelers from New Zealand or Taiwan, where Covid is functionally absent?

- Do vaccinated people need Covid tests to cross the border? Can they get them in advance, or will we run them at points of entry and make people wait for results - or will we do both, as we do now? If so, how do we administer them to tens of thousands of people arriving daily when our immigration system is fully automated/biometric? Our land borders with Shenzhen, Macao and Zhuhai are much like those at San Diego/Tijuana, with people working and living on both sides of the border crossing daily, but is fully automated, and uses Chinese and Hong Kong ID cards/e-passports. So what does processing 50,000 Covid tests and/or vaccination-certificate verifications a day look like in a train station never designed for that many in-person immigration inspections?

- What do we do with vaccinated people who were let onto their flights and then test positive on arrival? Do we deport them? What if they're Hong Kong permanent residents or citizens but don't live here? Who pays for their quarantine?

So your question of "what counts?" is not just one of vaccine certificates - it's one of, as you and other commenters identify, the logistics of entry and exit, as well as trust in the health-system processes of other countries. All of which is, at least partly, political. If you're thinking about travelling, then sure, give the embassy of the country you're going to a call and ask them if they'll take the vaccine card as evidence when you land. But don't expect a solid answer just yet.
posted by mdonley at 10:06 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]

When I got my card for my first dose they literally said, "this will be your proof of vaccination if you ever need it. don't lose it."
posted by simplethings at 12:08 AM on April 8

All of my childhood vaccination records from the 80s are on handwritten cards. This is the original system for vaccination records, it works fine.
posted by edbles at 2:52 AM on April 8

I remember reading a story years ago in Condé Nast Traveler, a guy was crossing the border somewhere in Africa where there was an outbreak of some deadly disease. People were being vaccinated on the spot with...the same needle. This guy was prepared though. He whipped out his WHO yellow vaccination booklet, scribbled the vaccination info, signed a doctor’s name and stamped it with a rubber stamp he’d had made up as a joke, The Republic of Amnesia. It passed.

There’s nothing about the CDC Record Card that I couldn’t whip up in Illustrator with an hour’s work. It’s b/w ffs. I could print it on my own printer, including stickers. Yes there’s a batch number but no foreign immigration official/airline check-in agent is going to be able to access that for confirmation.

If the CDC had just made it a teensiest bit harder to reproduce—a hologram? a security strip? UV ink? color?? then we would be much better prepared for the “vaccination cards are anti-American” crowd. Those of us who want to travel would already have more secure proof.

I had the vaccination nurse sign my tattered WHO booklet but y’know, it’s just handwriting. I think pre-flight COVID tests will be mandatory for a long while once international travel opens up again. Fortunately there’s a huge oversupply.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:30 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]

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