By the end of spring, our Instagram feeds and group chats were filled with joyous selfies taken from inside pharmacies and the front seats of cars. The newly vaccinated were rolling up their sleeves to show off their fresh Walgreens Band-Aid or triumphantly displaying a small piece of paper — evidence of a hopeful return to post-pandemic normalcy.
This precious piece of paper, annoyingly too big to fit in a wallet, became a treasured possession, a key to unlocking the world we once knew — the one that would allow us to openly breathe all over a bunch of strangers in a sweaty bar once more. And so, some vaccinated hopefuls went to great lengths to ensure this card would be protected against the forces of nature, or the bottom of a pocket.
Andrea, a 26-year-old in Chicago, decided to laminate her vaccination card shortly after receiving her second shot. She, along with many others, assumed a number of establishments would require her to show proof of vaccination this summer, and she worried about the durability of the flimsy paper stub. “Staples was offering free laminations for vaccination cards, so I went and did it without even thinking,” she tells me. “But I ended up not really even needing it at all. I don’t think it’s seen the outside of my purse since leaving Staples.”
Mae, a 32-year-old in Brooklyn, got her card laminated thinking the additional weight would force her to “take it a bit more seriously.” “I’m pretty haphazard and lose things constantly and this was just a flimsy piece of paper,” she explains. “I thought I’d throw it away thinking it was a CVS receipt.”
To be sure, there were plenty of warnings against laminating COVID-19 vaccination cards. But when people were two shots in and desperately wanted to believe the end of the pandemic was in sight, sealing a card in plastic, forever preserving its pristine pharmacist scribbles, seemed like the best path forward. As Andrea points out, even office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot offered free vaccination card lamination coupons.
Kim, a 55-year-old in New Jersey, also laminated her vaccination card because she
figured she would need it for travel and “didn’t want it to get messed up.” Up until recently that assumption was correct — her card is very much intact, not messed up and in her possession. But when whispers of boosters began to circulate, the harsh reality started to set in, and that sweet, sweet laminated seal was looking a bit premature. What the hell do you do with it when you need a third shot?
When Kim got word about a potential third COVID-19 booster shot in the near future, she realized her laminated card might pose a problem — as did Andrea. “If boosters are required, and I eventually do need to show proof of all three shots, does that mean I’ll have to carry two cards around?” Andrea says. “Or will they be able to somehow keep adding to my laminated card?”
At the moment, there isn’t a clear answer. You could, perhaps, write in Sharpie on the card and then laminate it again, while somehow not smudging the ink. In a more festive approach, you could add stickers to the card for each of your new booster shots. Alternatively, you could attempt to unlaminate your card altogether, which seems a bit risky for the amateur craftsman. Or you could simply replace the card, for which the CDC recommends contacting your state’s health department in order to access your vaccination record. On the other hand, according to an interview with Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health communications director Jim Garrow, there’s a chance new cards will be given out with boosters no matter what. After all, showing proof of receiving three shots may not even be necessary.
That is to say, if your original card shows you’ve received two shots (or one, for J&J), then by official definition you are fully vaccinated. Having an additional card for additional booster shots may just be a bonus.
At least that’s the logic Kim’s banking on. Not long after hearing about the potential necessity for booster shots, Kim says she “went rogue,” and drove to a vaccination provider in New Jersey, rather than the location in New York where she got her first two shots. “I pretended it was my first shot,” she says. “Well, I didn’t tell them I was already fully vaccinated. Since it was my ‘first’ shot, I got an entirely new card and the lamination ultimately didn’t matter.”
Mae lost her card not long after getting it laminated, and she has managed to get around New York just fine by just using the Excelsior Pass vaccine app. However, with travel plans on the horizon, she assumes she’ll need to present a physical card. “Luckily, I’ll be able to go back and get the third shot and hopefully they can just put all three shots on the new one,” she says. “And then I’ll laminate it again and hope I don’t lose that one.”