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Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards are becoming more common on college campuses. FatCamera/Getty Images
  • Concerns are growing over the proliferation of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.
  • Officials point out that selling or owning such a card is a crime and can result in serious legal penalties.
  • They add that the cards are also a health threat, causing the spread of COVID-19 from unvaccinated people.
  • Experts recommend people with legitimate vaccination cards keep an extra copy. They also say the cards shouldn’t be laminated in case information needs to be updated.

There’s a new kind of fake ID card appearing on college campuses with wider health implications than the traditional ones allowing a 19-year-old to sneak into the campus pubs.

As schools reopen for fall all over the nation, officials are seeing fake vaccination cards popping up in situations in which class registration or event attendance requires a student to be vaccinated.

With the Delta variant causing COVID-19 numbers to surge again, there’s concern that false cards are just another factor with which health and campus officials must grapple as the pandemic starts affecting its third school year.

Many of the false documents are being sent to the United States from overseas on a nightly basis. On August 13, customs and border patrol officials in Memphis, Tennessee, said they seized 121 packages from Shenzen, China, containing more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards.

Officials first spotted the forgeries because they weren’t marked as official documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They also had errors, including misspellings, unfinished words, and incorrect Spanish translations, according to a statement released by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

“These vaccinations are free and available everywhere,” said Michael Neipert, the Area Port director in Memphis, in the statement. “If you do not wish to receive a vaccine, that is your decision. But don’t order a counterfeit, waste my officers’ time, break the law, and misrepresent yourself.”

“CBP officers at the Area Port of Memphis remain committed to stopping counterfeit smuggling and helping to protect our communities. But just know that when you order a fake vax card, you are using my officers’ time as they also seize fentanyl and methamphetamines,” he said.

The proliferation of fake vaccination cards prompted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to recommend that the federal officials crack down on the problem.

He noted that vaccines are free while the fake cards can be quite expensive.

The FBI has been warning about fake vaccine cards for months.

In a May 19 dispatch released by the agency’s Chicago office, the bureau wrote: “Vaccination cards are intended to provide recipients of the coronavirus vaccine with important information regarding the type of vaccine they received and their dates of inoculation.”

“The creation, purchase, or sale of vaccine cards by individuals is illegal and endangers public safety. The unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal on such cards is a crime… penalties may include hefty fines and prison time,” the officials said.

Erin Jackson, an attorney based in Illinois who specializes in healthcare issues, told Healthline that the CDC’s official logo must be on the card for it to be considered “official.”

“Because the CDC is a federal government agency, replicating the CDC’s logo for the purpose of making or showing a fraudulent vaccine card can violate federal law,” Jackson said. “Because it jeopardizes public health and is likely also being used to defraud someone else, it can also violate state criminal laws and municipal codes.”

“The bottom line is that the consequences can be considerable,” she said.

Most states have their own vaccination card-verification systems.

For example, California has the Digital COVID-19 Vaccination Record, New York has the Excelsior Pass, and Illinois has the Vax Verify System.

“Universities can verify vaccination accuracy by contacting the vaccination site named on the card or by using the vaccination verification systems implemented in some states,” Jackson said.

The American Medical Association offers tips on how people should handle their vaccination cards.

The organization recommends that having a backup copy of a vaccine card is important.

They also say you shouldn’t laminate your card. That’s because more information may be needed, including booster shot status.

Instead, the organization recommends using a card holder like the ones used at conventions, while trying to keep personal information covered.

They also suggest you keep a photo of yourself holding the card, which helps in case you need to obtain another copy from your vaccine provider.

If you can’t contact your vaccine provider directly, contact your state’s health department immunization information system, to which vaccine providers are required to report, the CDC says.