With vaccine requirements in place, unvaccinated people—including college students—are falsifying vaccine cards. Needless to say, that's a huge issue, particularly for parents of children who can't get vaccinated.

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When it comes to the pandemic, it seems we've all had to scramble at every turn. Urgency is everywhere: In our attempts to recalibrate our lives (and, uh, stock up on toilet paper) so we could safely stay home or protect ourselves when out in public. In medical experts' need to collect and interpret information immediately. In scientists' quest to develop safe and effective vaccines. In schools putting whole new sets of practices in place. And now, we're dealing with an urgent need to stop yet another pandemic-linked problem: The falsification of vaccine cards.

As health experts find the Delta variant to be more contagious than the ones before it and COVID-19 cases surge once again, some states are moving toward vaccine mandates to help stop the spread. While it's unlikely there will be any federal mandates, according to the U.S. Surgeon General in an interview with Parents.com, states are creating their own requirements for who needs the shot. For example, New York City requires proof of vaccine to go inside bars, restaurants, gyms, music venues, and movie theaters, among other places. New York, among other states, is also exploring a mandate for health care workers and long-term care facility employees to be vaccinated. Private businesses also have similar mandates in place and we are closely watching the conversation happening in schools after California ordered all public and private school teachers to be vaccinated or face regular testing. Several colleges and universities have also been requiring COVID-19 vaccination for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

In response to these vaccine mandates, those who are unvaccinated but do not want to follow the rules are opting to buy fake vaccine cards, sometimes for hundreds of dollars. The FBI is investigating a potential scheme to falsify vaccine cards in Chicago, according to CBS. There's an Instagram account with the handle @vaccinationcards which openly advertises the sale of $25 fakes. There are even listings for fake vaccine cards on marketplaces like Etsy. It's a federal crime to buy, use, or sell fraudulent documents that have a federal agency seal on it so those selling or carrying fake vaccine cards face up to five years in prison and a hefty fee when caught.

An image of a woman holding a vaccine card.
Credit: Getty Images.

Fake Vaccine Cards on College Campuses

These fake cards seem to be a particular problem among college students who attend one of the hundreds of schools with vaccine requirements in place. Students have been required to show proof of vaccination, which could include uploading the vaccine card to the school's portal, but instead many are adding fakes. Officials are worried: After all, college campuses are pretty obvious breeding grounds for viral spread—and while vaccinated students will have reduced risk of infection and severe disease, they can still catch and spread COVID-19 throughout their campuses and communities.

"[Students] explained to me that they can easily purchase fake vaccine cards," says Benjamin Meier, a professor of global health policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to CNN. "I asked, 'Do you know students who have submitted these to the university?' Every one of them did."

In order to catch these fake vaccine cards, schools would need to cross-reference student vaccine cards with county health department records. And students caught with fake cards could face similar repercussions as they would if using a fake ID, according to USA Today.

"Almost all colleges and universities have some internal process for meting out student discipline, and I can't see why a violation of a policy that makes use of a fake vaccination card wouldn't go through that same internal procedure," Erika K. Wilson, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told USA Today. At some universities, expulsion is one disciplinary option that could be taken.

What Parents Need to Know

As parents, we're especially affected by these fake vaccines cards. Kids under 12 aren't yet able to get vaccinated, so protecting them from infection and severe disease is of utmost importance—and when people decide to break the rules, they're putting our unvaccinated kids, who can't access that important line of defense, at risk. And even for vaccinated college students, having unvaccinated students unmasked in classrooms and at parties causes a big risk. While breakthrough COVID-19 cases are still rare, they are on the rise with the Delta variant. The majority of people who are fully vaccinated will not get severely sick from COVID-19, but they can spread the disease to children or someone immunocompromised who cannot get the vaccine.

The system for proving vaccination is not exactly high-tech: Right now, many of us are simply presenting the cards we received upon vaccination—but this was never intended to be a long-term solution to verify vaccination status. As far as long-term solutions go, there isn't a universal one. Taking vaccine cards to the digital space could certainly help: Certain states, like New York with its Excelsior App and California, which has rolled out a digital card technology, offer options that are, seemingly, more secure and cross-check with county vaccination records. Other apps have been created, and it seems inevitable that more technologies will come soon.

More work is needed to fix these issues. In the meantime, fake vaccine cards are threatening public health in a very real way. We need a better system—but more than anything, we need people to do better.