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How to prove you're vaccinated as more venues make it mandatory

NYC to mandate vaccines for indoor activities
New York City to mandate vaccines for indoor activities 02:28

With new vaccine mandates in place and more on the way, individuals who wish to patronize some gyms, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will need to prove they're inoculated against the coronavirus.

Simply saying, "I'm vaccinated," is no longer sufficient. Neither is sporting the "I got the shot" sticker you might have been given when you received one or both jabs. 

So what kind of proof is acceptable, and how can you demonstrate your immunization status without compromising the security of your personal information?

An antiquated system for 2021

The simplest, lowest-tech method is to carry around a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued paper vaccination record card and present it when asked to show you've gotten your shots. For individuals, the downsides of this form of proof include the possibility of misplacing the flimsy record card or leaving it at home.

From a business's perspective, meanwhile, it can be hard to distinguish between an authentic CDC-issued card and an easily generated forgery

"The CDC Covid Vaccine Certificate is certainly not as official or secure as it could have been, but it will likely have to suffice," said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School. 

In early 2021, around when the CDC began issuing the vaccination cards, fakes proliferated on shopping platforms including Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, Shopify and others. Authorities have since cracked down on the sites, and listings for fraudulent cards are now harder to find. These days, they are more commonly found on the dark web, according to Saoud Khalifah, CEO of FakeSpot, an internet browser extension that uses artificial intelligence to warn consumers of online retail scams.

"There has been a definite rise because there is a significant part of the population interested in this, and wherever there is demand there is supply," Khailfah said. "If you want to get it, you can get it. It's available — even through very popular platforms."

Khalifah said scammers even claim to be able to hack the CDC's database and produce cards that appear to be authentic based on its records. 

Danny Meyer talks vaccine policy for indoor dining 07:34

To avoid losing all trace of your paper vaccination record, individuals with smartphones can photograph the card and store it in its own photo album for easy access in their digital photo libraries.

"If you lose your card, that's an issue. You can go back to wherever you got the vaccination at a clinic or hospital or doctor's office or pharmacy and they'll have to reissue the card, but it becomes cumbersome and people don't like cumbersome," said Dr. Robert Quigley, global medical director of medical and security service company International SOS.

A number of venues have indicated that photographic evidence is sufficient proof of vaccination. And at this relatively early stage of mandatory vaccinations, other businesses are still relying on the honor system. 

Investment bank Morgan Stanley, for example, which requires anyone entering its New York offices to be vaccinated, said it is asking workers and clients to declare their vaccination status through a company health check portal.

"We haven't requested proof of vaccination," a Morgan Stanley spokesperson said. "We're continuing to monitor the situation but right now that continues to be our policy."

Equinox gyms and Soul Cycle spin studios this week announced New York members and riders must be vaccinated, and can demonstrate their status through a physical immunization card or digital vaccine card or regional pass.

Apps and more apps

A number of vaccination verification apps from both tech companies and local and state governments are currently available to the public. Advocates for these kinds of systems say they speed up the verification process for, say, a bouncer at the door of a bar or night club who would need only to look at a digital green check mark, versus trying to analyze a handwritten notecard. 

Some institutions have created their own apps or portals. Columbia University is requiring faculty and staff to upload a picture of their vaccination card to its own COVID-19 resource site via an app, according to Cohen. 

"Something like that can work for employees of any company," he said. 

Demonstrators protest against vaccine passports in France, Italy and Australia 02:46

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced the city will soon require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor restaurants, gyms and theaters. The program, called the "Key to NYC Pass," will accept paper vaccination cards, the city's NYC Covid Safe app and the state's Excelsior Pass app, all of which constitute acceptable forms of proof of vaccination under the program's guidelines. The city will start enforcing its new policy in September. 

California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey and Utah also have their own portals or apps, and individuals who got jabbed at a pharmacy can access their digital records directly from CVS and Walgreens.

Taking onus off employees

VaxYes is another free, government-compliant digital vaccination verification app available to individuals across the globe. The COVID-19 verification tool is currently in use by gig workers, day laborers and large employers, according to its CEO, Mohammed Gaber.

Other consumers use the system to enter restaurants and bars where proof of vaccination is required. The tool takes some of the workload off employees tasked with verifying patrons' status, Gaber told CBS MoneyWatch.

"People on the other side are suddenly in the business of validating and verifying vaccine cards, and nobody should be put in that position. They're not trained, they don't see as many cards and they're doing vaccine verification," he added. 

Once individuals attest that they've been vaccinated and upload a copy of their vaccination record card, they achieve what the VaxYes app considers to be a Level 1 verification status. "We use legal language so there are consequences if you do something wrong," Gaber said. 

VaxYes then reviews uploaded documentation to ensure a user's personal ID matches the information on their vaccine card and that the vaccine dates and lot numbers make sense. The app also checks for common fraud markers and applies further levels of verification when necessary, using artificial intelligence to verify the validity of the card and photo and cross-referencing state immunization records to verify the information entered into VaxYes.

"We've done the work to review the card and maintain the identify of the person so venues don't have to worry about that," Gaber said, adding that the app has millions of users and has seen "tremendous growth" in recent weeks. 

There are a handful of similar apps, including the AOKpass from International SOS. Used by several airlines and oil and gas companies, the digital pass relies on blockchain technology to issue users a portable copy of their medical records, according to Quigley of International SOS.

"People can and have forged their paper document, so the ideal way to verify that you've been vaccinated is to have a setup like the one we have whereby there is a closed circuit between you, the health care provider and the lab doing the testing," he said. 

The Clear Health Pass, from the same company that helps speed travelers through airport security, is another reliable alternative. Users can load their vaccination information into the health pass to confirm their status and create a digital vaccine card. 

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