Vaccination site gives out photocopies instead of CDC cards; how they may derail your travel plans

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Sunday, August 8, 2021
Photocopies instead of CDC cards? How they may ruin travel plans
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A mass vaccination site in San Mateo ran out of CDC cards, and resorted to handing out photocopies of cards instead.

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- As the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads, more venues are requiring proof of vaccination to enter. And those four-by-three-inch CDC vaccination cards are the most universally accepted proof. But turns out tens of thousands of people who got their vaccines in San Mateo county did not get one of these official cards.

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This could affect anyone who got their shots at a mass vaccination site in San Mateo county. Instead of getting the official CDC vaccination card with their data handwritten on it, they got two sheets of 8-and-a-half by 11 copy paper, with photocopied information. At least one cruise line said it was nowhere near good enough to get one of our viewers on board their ship.

"8-and-a-half by 11 -- it's just Xerox paper," Jane Bertelsen of Foster City said. Jane was among the first to get a COVID vaccine back in January, at a mass vaccination site at the San Mateo county event center.

"It was quick, amazingly efficient. We were in and out of there and back home in less than an hour. I thought everything was fine, no big deal," she said.

Until four months later, when she and a friend booked a cruise to Barbados. The carrier and local government required proof of vaccination to get on board.

"When I got my two vaccines, I was only given a photocopy of the CDC card... and I should think I should have been given a photocopy of the CDC card proper," said Bertelsen.

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Turns out San Mateo county didn't provide CDC cards at the vaccination site, where about 100,000 people received their shots. Instead they gave out photocopies on sheets of paper, one for each dose.

Bertelsen contacted the county health department. Was this her proof?

"He said, 'You're fine. What you've got is perfectly legitimate. We wouldn't be giving it to you if it wasn't and you should be able to use that any time, any place, anywhere,'" Bertelsen recalled.

So she contacted Seabourne cruises. "And they're saying, 'No that won't do at all, you have to have the CDC card. We will not take a photocopy of the card on a piece of copy paper. You have to have the actual card.'"

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We showed Bertelsen's vaccine documents to cruising expert "The Cruise Guy" Stewart Chiron. "I've seen immigration officers deny entry into a country because the documentation being presented, they didn't deem it to be authentic."

"The paperwork you just showed me," Chiron continued, "there's no way to determine its authenticity... I mean, these can be doctored."

He says photocopies raise suspicion as possible fakes.

The FBI has already warned of attempts to create counterfeit CDC cards.

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Chiron says the CDC card has become the one universally recognized proof of vaccination for American travelers to foreign countries. Even state records may not be readily accepted.

"It's just best to have what it is, that everybody is universally, you know, traveling from the United States to foreign destinations is looking for, which is that CDC card," said Chiron.

Which brings us back to Bertelsen. Not only was she worried about getting on the cruise, but now many local venues are requiring proof of vaccination too.

We asked the county health department why it gave out photocopies.

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A spokesperson said they were not intended as official proof. The pages include a second-dose reminder and information on vaccine side effects. The full sheet of paper, according to them, "reduced the chances of it being lost or ignored."

And the spokesperson said, "official" proof is on the state's website.

But Bertelsen's record on the website was wrong - showing she got two different vaccines.

"But I can't show them a record that is incorrect," Bertelsen told county officials over the phone.

After 7 On Your Side got involved, the county not only corrected her state record - but gave her an original CDC card.

Now she's off to Barbados.

"I'll be so thankful to get on the boat... I'll be taking a deep breath and having a cocktail and saying, 'thank God I'm here,'" she said.

After our report, San Mateo public health officials say they are now giving out those original CDC cards instead. But if you got a photocopy, you can request a card or get your official proof on the state's website.

San Mateo County Health Department issued the following statement to ABC7 News:

Local health departments across the country mobilized vaccination at large scale at a time when vaccine verification standards and business practices had not yet been invented. We now emphasize the State of California's online link to the official immunization registry as the source of truth. It would be unfortunate for readers and viewers to have the impression that the proactive, massive rollout of the vaccine is now responsible for unforeseen difficulties in navigating individual leisure companies' practices.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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