A person holding a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card
Photo: Joan Slatkin/Getty Images

Once you have received your coronavirus vaccination, you have completed an important medical step for protecting yourself and your community. In addition to peace of mind and a sore arm, you will receive a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card that carries the seal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are some tips on how to protect the card and what you can do with it.

Protect Your Card

Since your proof of vaccination is just a paper card that would not survive a mistaken cycle in the wash, experts recommend making a digital copy. “First, take a picture of it, both sides, and then write down the lot numbers in a good place because that is going to be important information at some point,” says Tom Frieden, a former head of the CDC.

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Drug companies routinely keep track of medications made at the same time at the same facility using batch or lot numbers. Such identifying numbers, which are also used for goods as diverse as food and toys, allow the manufacturers to track expiration dates, and to better trace and coordinate a response if contamination or other problems are detected.

If you feel safer with a more solid card, several office supply stores will laminate the paper certificates for free, including Office Depot. But don’t be too eager! If you are getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines—which require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively—do not laminate your card until after the information from your second shot is recorded on it.

Get the App(s)

A number of organizations and coalitions are putting together digital apps to let you prove that you’ve been vaccinated. “There will be some form of COVID vaccine certificate, it is inevitable,” says Frieden, who is currently president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a group that aims to prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease and epidemics.

Digital vaccine passports are a fast-developing field, and you may need more than one app, depending on what you are trying to do. For example, you could use New York State’s Excelsior Pass (which remains valid for 180 days) to attend a Knicks basketball game at Madison Square Garden, but a different app for travel abroad. An app may also serve as a good backup for the paper vaccination card.

Be Cautious With Travel

Traveling may be one of the temptations after getting the COVID-19 vaccination. 

The CDC says that those who have been fully vaccinated can travel safely in the United States, but should continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and wash or sanitize their hands frequently. For domestic travel, each state sets its own rules as to any testing requirements or restrictions for incoming visitors, and the guidelines change frequently. It is best to check prior to your departure on this CDC travel planner, which has links to every state.

Health experts are more cautious in discussing international travel. “Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19,” the CDC says in its latest advice. “However, international travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants.”

For vaccinated Americans who decide to travel anyway, the options are growing. Some popular destinations don't require negative test results for those who have been vaccinated, and the list of nations allowing in inoculated visitors is expected to continue to expand. However, you will need a negative test to return to the United States, even if you've been vaccinated. Self-quarantining post-trip isn’t necessary unless your state and city require it. But you should get tested again three to five days after you return. 

Enjoy Other Perks

Some companies, including Kroger, American Airlines, Marriott, Petco, and Trader Joe’s, are offering workers cash or other incentives to get vaccinated. The amount is typically in the $50 to $100 range, but sometimes even more.

Here’s one of the more unusual incentives: Some Krispy Kreme locations are offering one free donut per day to anyone who shows their COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, no purchase necessary. And other companies are offering their own freebies and perks, from game tokens to popcorn.

How to Replace a COVID-19 Vaccination Card

If you lose your card, it can be replaced because both the pharmacy or entity that gave the vaccination and your state keep track of immunizations.

“The procedure here is for the person to go back to the original provider who can easily look up the patient’s record in ImmTrac2, the [Texas] vaccine registry, and print a copy or fill out a new card for the person,” said Douglas Loveday, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The process is essentially the same in other states. If you lose the card while in a different city and cannot get the replacement card from the original source, don’t lose hope. “The local public health department and/or [California Department of Public Health] may have this information if the vaccinated individual is unable to locate it through the provider or clinic,” says Ali Bay, a CDPH spokesperson.

The CDC maintains a list of different state health department immunization registries and contact details.

Military veterans vaccinated at facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs can access their COVID-19 vaccine records through My HealtheVet, the agency's online personal health record system.

The process is more complicated for those who lose their card while traveling abroad. Asked if U.S. embassies abroad could help replace cards lost while traveling, a State Department spokesperson sidestepped the question and said: “We urge U.S. citizens to follow current travel guidance to reconsider travel or not to travel to a number of countries due to COVID-19 considerations.”

Because some U.S. states allow online access to your vaccination history, you may still be able to demonstrate your status for travel purposes even if you are unable to immediately replace a lost CDC card.