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Don't Have Your California Digital Vaccine Card Yet? Here's How to Get It

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A bouncer turns away people without their vaccination cards outside a club in Los Angeles on May 21, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Digital vaccine cards — referred to by some as "vaccine passports" — have been available to Californians since June through the California Department of Public Health. And with the COVID-19 delta variant continuing to spread statewide, and Bay Area counties recently reinstating a mask mandate indoors, the likelihood that you might need to provide proof of vaccination to enter certain restaurants, venues and bars is increasing.

Proof of vaccination among staff is also becoming more common among employers. On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandate that all California teachers and staff be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly — the first such statewide mandate in the nation.

If you haven't signed up for your digital vaccine card yet, read on for more details of what CDPH's digital vaccine verification looks like, why you might want to have one, how to request your digital vaccine record online and what do if you have problems with the system.

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What is a digital COVID vaccine record? What does it look like?

Your digital COVID vaccine record refers to the details of your COVID vaccination as stored in the California Immunization Registry (CAIR, which also stores details of all your vaccinations, not just your COVID shots).

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What's being referred to as your "digital COVID vaccine card" is really just a screenshot of that online record — plus a QR code that's attached to it. It's an alternative way of verifying your COVID vaccination status if and when venues or businesses request to see it. Previously, you'd only have been able to show the paper copy of your vaccine record (the one you received when you got your shot) or a photo of that paper copy.

The state's digital COVID vaccine record works by taking the phone number or email address associated with your COVID vaccine appointment, and then matching those details with the vaccination information stored with CAIR.

The link you'll receive from the CDPH will either be texted to you or emailed, depending on the contact method you provide. The link opens to a webpage with your COVID vaccination record(s), including which brand of vaccine you received and when you got your shot(s). You can screenshot this page and save it to your computer or phone.

The webpage will contain a QR code, which you can also screenshot and save on your phone. If you're at a venue that can read SMART Health Cards, you can present a copy of this QR code for them to scan.

Why should I get a digital vaccine card? Where could I be asked for mine?

The sign-up process is fairly simple, and no separate app download is required. The electronic record of your vaccination may also be easier to read than a photo of your paper vaccine card, which will have been handwritten by a member of the staff at your vaccination appointment.

This digital record is also a good option if you've straight-up misplaced or damaged your paper vaccine card recently. (If that's you, and you're seeking a replacement for your CDC card, The San Francisco Chronicle has a guide to how to request one.) Not only can you use the digital version as proof of your vaccination, but you can print it out to replace your paper card.

The state has stressed that the digital vaccination record is not a vaccine passport, and that you are not required to obtain one. The state's vaccine card FAQ also says that California "will not be implementing a mandatory passport system in California."

The California Department of Public Health lists several alternative ways to prove your vaccination status if required, including your CDC card (the paper copy or a photo of the card on your phone) or documentation of vaccination from a health care provider.

Some venues have the right to ask you to provide proof of vaccination as a condition of entry — and they're going to do that regardless of whether you call that proof a "passport" or not. These venues might include larger locations like concert halls and sporting stadiums, and smaller venues like gyms and bars.

In July, hundreds of San Francisco bars announced they'd be requiring proof of vaccination upon entry for customers. (Read the list of these bars and venues requiring proof of vaccination via SF Eater.)

Your workplace may also ask you to provide proof of vaccination. Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a mandate that all California teachers and staff be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be tested weekly. In the past two weeks, the state also has issued vaccination or regular testing mandates for state employees and health care workers.

Step-by-step: How to get your digital vaccine card

Visit the state's Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record portal to start the process of requesting your vaccination record electronically. The request process is all based around this one webpage.

First, input your name and birthday:

Next, you'll provide the phone number or email address you gave when you originally made your COVID vaccine appointment:

The last step is creating a PIN number, which you'll use to get access to your vaccine record when the link is texted or emailed to you:

If you provide a phone number, the link will be texted to you. If you provide an email address, you'll get the link via email. Open the link and input the PIN you set earlier. You'll then see your COVID vaccine record and your QR code. Screenshot and save the image, or print it out for a paper copy of your vaccination.

This link to your digital vaccine record is available for 24 hours. After that, you'll have to request your record and a new link again.

What if I used the same phone number or email address to make multiple vaccination appointments for my family?

It's totally fine. Just enter each vaccination record request separately, with the name of the vaccinated person and whatever phone number or email was used to make their appointment.

What if I got vaccinated outside California?

If you got vaccinated in a state other than California, see if that state offers a digital vaccine card equivalent to California's My Vaccine Record that you can request and present when asked for proof of vaccination in California.

If they don't, you can just present a photo of your CDC vaccination card — since that card is provided for every COVID vaccination in the United States, regardless of which state it took place in.

What if you got vaccinated in a country outside the U.S.? Take a look at the California Department of Public Health's recommended ways to show your proof of vaccination to see what you can provide.

You may also wish to consult the specific information on acceptable proof of vaccination in a particular city or county.  For example, San Francisco's detailed FAQ on providing proof of vaccination says that city establishments will accept "similar documentation issued by another foreign governmental jurisdiction" when it comes to vaccines, as long as the name on that documentation can be matched to your photo identification.

San Francisco also provides specific advice to people who live in Canada and who got the AstraZeneca vaccine. It confirms that a Canadian vaccination card will satisfy the proof of vaccination requirement even though AstraZeneca's vaccine wasn't approved by the FDA — as long as you are fully vaccinated.

What if I can't find my vaccine record, or there's a mistake on it?

If you submit your information to the portal but no link to your vaccination record is returned, the state recommends making sure:

  • That you're entering an email or phone number associated with your vaccine record (i.e., the contact details you originally used to make your vaccination appointment).
  • That you double-check you've entered the correct name and birthdate.

If your record still isn’t found, or if the information that's returned is wrong (for example, the wrong vaccination dates, dose number or dose brand), you can:

  • Follow CDPH's troubleshooting tips.
  • Call (833) 422-4255 (lines open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
  • Email novelvirus@cdph.ca.gov.

CDPH also has a troubleshooting form you can complete, but the state says it'll take two to three weeks to get back to you with their findings and next steps,.

Some people will have made their vaccination appointment over the phone via CPDH's COVID hotline, precisely because they didn't have a cellphone number or email address with which to make their appointment. If that's you, we suggest contacting CDPH using the number above.

What if I don't want to get a digital vaccine card?

That's OK — nobody's going to make you get a digital vaccine card. The state says you are not required to obtain a digital COVID-19 vaccine record and that this system is entirely optional.

It's also just one of the ways to show your proof of vaccination. You can still show your paper card anywhere that's requesting proof of vaccination, or use another method included on the California Department of Public Health's list of ways to prove you're vaccinated.

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A version of this story was originally published on June 24.

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