Specific instructions showing how to forge Covid-19 vaccination cards have proliferated on conspiracy, pro-Trump, and anti-vaccination forums on the internet in recent weeks, as users exploited a largely improvised verification system.
The cards, distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been distributed to the more than 140 million Americans who have already received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The Biden administration has said it will not create a federal immunization database, citing privacy concerns, paving the way for cards to become the country’s national default way to check if someone has been vaccinated.
And while one state – New York – has adopted a vaccination verification app, there is little evidence that others are closely behind.
While much of the country is in the early stages of deciding how to ask employees, students and travelers to prove they have been vaccinated, most entities that have already made a plan are relying on these cards. . Silicon Valley-based Salesforce announced earlier this month that employees returning to work in person will be required to show their cards, and United Airlines has said it will demand the same from its employees.
Seven universities that already plan to require students to get vaccinated before attending this fall – American University, Bowdoin College, University of Colorado Boulder, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fort Lewis College, Rutgers University, and Wesleyan University – have all reported the process of verification. would involve asking students to download their CDC cards, at least if they are coming from out of state.
But since the cards are hand-marked, don’t contain a lot of information, are printed on thick, easily accessible white paper, and are impossible to quickly verify, this leaves an opportunity for the anti-vaccine community to beat the system by sharing. instructions on how to forge them.
“It’s a card made of card stock,” said Alyssa Miller, a cybersecurity expert who specializes in protecting large businesses. “There is absolutely nothing in there that would prevent you from reproducing it.”
“How are you going to get someone on the other end, those who are supposed to check them out, to look at one and determine if it’s legitimate or fake?” she said.
In March, the FBI issued a public warning that creating or buying a fake vaccine card is illegal.
On conspiracy and anti-government forums on the web, users have created links to model maps that have been left visible on state government websites, including high-resolution PDFs from government department websites. Wyoming and Missouri health.
The CDC has since provided guidance for states to extract the models from their sites, citing “misuse” by the anti-vaccine community, state officials say.
“The CDC has always advised states not to release the model vaccine card,” CDC spokeswoman Kate Grusich said in a statement.
Instructions on how to create counterfeit cards appeared in comments and high-level posts on pro-Trump forums, like TheDonald.win, which was renamed Patriots.Win after its user base urged to storm the Capitol in the days leading up to the January 6 Riot.
On the extremist 4chan forum, users were asked to download a template from the Wyoming Department of Health website, and then receive specific instructions on the thickness of card stock needed to reproduce the maps. The instructions say that some vaccination centers affix sticker labels to the cards to indicate the date, so the recommended resolution for the printed labels is also provided.
The versions of the instructions, which have also been posted on the gun forums and QAnon forums, remind users to write the date in a blue ballpoint pen and not to be too neat with their handwriting, mimicking a nurse in a hurry or tired. Some instructions provide potential lot numbers of Pfizer or Moderna slides that correspond to the dates they were distributed.
Articles typically link to publicly available templates posted on the back of websites in multiple states.
A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Seniors Services said he received a call from the CDC “about a month ago” saying “it would be better if states no longer had this material online. because some were using the card / file for fraudulent use. “
“Initially, it was included on our vaccinators’ resources web page because there were times when providers did not receive enough cards with the vaccines, especially when additional doses were drawn before auxiliary kits. larger ones are not available, ”said a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health. .
The Wyoming Department of Health also confirmed that its model was phased out on April 1, citing “misuse.”
“The original purpose of releasing the document was to make things a little easier for community providers,” a spokesperson for the department said.
Despite the ease with which cards are forged, digital privacy advocates say a paper-based system is still better than a central online database or smartphone app. More programs like New York’s Excelsior program – so far the only state-wide smartphone app that functions as a vaccine passport – would create more ways to monitor individuals’ data, said Hayley Tsukayama , a legislative activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. non-profit.
“Set up massive systems to track people, collect their information, and then without any exit plan, how is that data going to be handled?” she said.
“We have an analog system that works for the needs of what we’re doing. You know sometimes when you look at smart technology, and you’re like, ‘Does that really need to be smart? I needed in my life? “She says. “I think that’s a good example of that.”
An alternative is to allow vaccine distributors, such as state governments and pharmacies, to print official cards with more built-in guarantees, closer to a driver’s license. But that requires longer-term planning for a largely real-time vaccine response, said Eva Velasquez, chair of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a victims advocacy organization.
“Paper will always present less risk of unintentionally compromising everything digital,” she said.
“Yes [the CDC card] is just a short-term fix for the way we temporarily navigate the world and get back to normal, so that’s probably good enough. But there are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know how long this will last. “
Yet models are now proliferating online. Some users have created document archives using instant archive services such as archive.is, which users now log on directly, along with tampering instructions.
A poll showed that vaccine hesitancy is most prevalent among Republican men, with an April 14 Monmouth University poll showing 43% of Republicans say they would never get the vaccine.
On pro-Trump forums like Patriots.Win where counterfeits are rampant, vaccine conspiracy theories and government control are the norm, not the exception.
“If they really try to make this ‘mandatory’ it will become one of the most falsified documents in history,” read the first comment on one of the posts urging users to forge cards.