120,000 vaccinated in San Mateo County left without CDC cards; county has no plans to replace them

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- Every day, more businesses and venues are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Now it's become an issue for thousands who got their shots at a mass vaccination site in San Mateo County. The county didn't give them the proper Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vaccination cards. Instead, they gave out photocopies.

After our first report aired, several viewers tried to trade their photocopies for a real CDC card. A few were able to get one but after a flood of requests, the county isn't swapping them out anymore. Now folks say they're worried they don't have that universally-accepted vaccine proof.

7 On Your Side first told you about Jane Bertelsen of Foster City, who got her COVID-19 shots at the San Mateo County Event Center.

Instead of getting a CDC vaccine card, she received photocopies of a card on two sheets of paper. "8-1/2 by 11. It's just Xerox paper. I thought everything was fine, business as usual."

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Until she booked a cruise, which required proof of vaccination. Bertelsen asked if those copies would work.

"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,'" Bertelsen said.

"Well in that case, all 100,000 of us who got a paper are out of luck," said Bruce Hegedus of San Mateo.

"I thought, 'Wait a minute, that's gonna be a problem," said Kent Lue of Union City.

"So that's why I tried to get the real copy," said Pauline Bischoff of Los Altos Hills.

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Turns out San Mateo county gave out photocopies to 120,000 other people too.

After hearing Bertelsen's story, many asked the county to swap the copies for a real CDC card.

"And they said we're not giving out cards. And I thought to myself, whoa," said Hegedus.

"They just said, 'No we're not doing it, and if you have a problem let us know,'" said Lue.

Pauline Bischoff had a little more luck. She brought her paper copy to a clinic that administered some of the shots.

"And she didn't look very happy and just kind of looked at me and then said, 'Okay, this is -- you're going to be the last one I'm going to do this for. And you don't tell anybody about this,'" Bischoff recounted.

The clinic copied Bischoff's information onto a CDC card, but has stopped doing so for others.

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7 On Your Side helped Bertelsen get a card from the county, but there is no plan to replace all the others.

San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy says the county followed all state guidelines. And early on, the copies seemed better than a CDC card.

"Right now it would be too difficult to go back to 120,000 people and redo their cards. People have to understand we're still in the middle of a pandemic, where resources are stretched so thin, we're focused on battling COVID-19," Callagy said.

"We actually put them on a larger piece of paper, stock paper, in order so that we could put other information on the back, like when your next appointment was, some of the things to watch out for, some of the reactions that could occur. So we felt it was important for all that information to be in one place for individuals, which obviously the CDC cards don't have. Little did we know that later on, that they would be needed for a different purpose," he continued.

Folks say, early on, they weren't concerned about proof either.

"At the time, nobody cared, it didn't matter. We just wanted to get our shots as soon as we could," said Lue.

"I didn't know, I was so excited because I was able to get the vaccine," said Bischoff.

"I think most people were just thrilled to be able to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible and save lives. And that's what we were really focused on was saving lives," said Callagy.

Officials emphasize everyone can download their vaccine proof from the state's website. But sometimes the information is wrong or incomplete.

"The lot number for my Pfizer isn't on there," said Lue.

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Kent Lue and others found the state record doesn't show lot numbers or vaccination site. Destinations like Hawaii require all that information on a visitor's vaccine proof.

"I've seen immigration officials reject documents. You really need that CDC card," said travel expert Stewart Chiron.

Still, the state record is widely accepted for local use like restaurants and event halls.

And Callagy said the county will issue a CDC card to those who show it's essential for travel.

"But then it will be too late. I don't want to wait till a problem happens," said Lue.

"I'd like to have it so that when things do calm down, then you know we can travel," agreed Bruce Hegedus.

The good news is San Mateo will give CDC cards if and when folks get their third "booster" shot. And they can list the first shots on there as well. For now the county will consider requests if a card is essential for travel.

For those who got their vaccinations at the San Mateo County Event Center, and who did not get an official CDC card, requests for cards can be sent to the San Mateo County Department of Public Health at COVIDvax@smcgov.org. Be ready to say why your planned travel or activity requires the card.

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

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